France confirms Paris peace summit delayed until January
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France confirms Paris peace summit delayed until January

French envoy to UN says ‘conditions not in place today to restart negotiations’ between Israel, Palestinians

French President Francois Hollande (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographers at the Elysee Palace, Paris, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. (AP/Thibault Camus)
French President Francois Hollande (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographers at the Elysee Palace, Paris, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. (AP/Thibault Camus)

France confirmed Saturday it is postponing an international peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was set to take place in Paris later this month, citing a lack of suitable diplomatic conditions.

“After nearly a year of efforts, France will hold during January an international conference bringing together all the states attached to [seeking] peace,” French ambassador to the United Nations François Delattre said, according to Reuters.

“Everyone knows that only the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to conclude a peace directly, but we have to recognize today that the conditions are not in place today to restart the negotiations,” he said in a statement released by the foreign ministry in Paris.

The summit will now take place in January 2017, Delattre said.

Israel has said it will not attend the summit, preferring direct talks instead, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu going so far last week as to offer to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for negotiations in Paris if French President Francois Hollande canceled the confab.

French Ambassador to the United Nations Francois Delattre (screen capture: YouTube)
French Ambassador to the United Nations Francois Delattre (screen capture: YouTube)

The French confirmation came following multiple reports that the conference would be delayed until the new year. Channel 10 reported earlier this week that the Palestinian envoy to France had already informed his superiors of the delay, saying French officials needed more time to prepare. The Palestinian official insisted Israel’s refusal to participate had nothing to do with the decision, according to that report.

The French have been pushing an initiative aimed at revitalizing the moribund peace process between Palestinians and Israelis. While the Palestinians have welcomed the initiative, Israel has remained critical of the plan, arguing that only bilateral negotiations can prove successful.

Since a peace summit in June in Paris officially kicked off the French initiative, three groups have been tasked with examining avenues to propel the peace process forward, according to a report in French newspaper Le Monde last week.

One group has looked at building the institutions needed for the establishment of a Palestinian state; another has studied the economic incentives peace would bring for those involved, in particular for the European Union; while a third group worked on enhancing the participation of civil society in the process.

The proposals of the three groups will be examined during the summit, the report said. Paris is also reportedly examining different avenues for conveying the findings to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, either on the sidelines of the summit or by sending representatives to Ramallah and Jerusalem.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) and French President Francois Hollande (right), hold a press conference after their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on April 15, 2016. (AFP/Dominique Faget)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) and French President Francois Hollande (right), hold a press conference after their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on April 15, 2016. (AFP/Dominique Faget)

France’s new envoy to Israel said Monday that the conference would not contain any novel ideas on how to solve the Middle East conflict, but is mainly intended to prevent the issue from disappearing amid other global crises.

“What we propose is nothing new but [we are] trying to keep the subject on the agenda and not letting it down because there are other crises in the world,” Ambassador Hélène Le Gal said. “We continue to propose things and it’s always in a very good spirit toward Israel.”

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, France is “always keen to propose” solutions to various conflicts across the globe, Le Gal told President Reuven Rivlin after she handed him her letter of credence, officially taking up her post.

French Ambassador to Israel Hélène Le Gal (screen capture: YouTube)
French Ambassador to Israel Hélène Le Gal (screen capture: YouTube)

Rivlin welcomed the new ambassador and hailed the country’s longstanding support for Israel, but at the same time made plain Jerusalem’s misgivings about the Paris summit.

Rivlin said there was little danger of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict falling off the world’s agenda, though he admitted it was important to keep some issues front and center.

“Unfortunately everyone knows that in the Middle East there are no shortcuts. You have to build confidence,” Rivlin said. “The only way to get to an understanding with our cousins, with our neighbors, with our partners — the Palestinians — for being here in this very tiny piece of earth we are sitting on, is only by direct negotiations and the understanding that we have to accept them and they have to accept us.”

He added: “There is no other way but to live together and try to reach for a better future that will bring prosperity to everyone.”

Raphael Ahren and Dov Lieber contributed to this report.

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