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France: Talks within days on UN resolution on Palestinians

Paris to advance Security Council bid to set framework for peace negotiations; EU weighing new action to pressure Israel on talks

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at the Maison des Océans in Paris, March 17, 2015. (AFP/KENZO TRIBOUILLARD)
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at the Maison des Océans in Paris, March 17, 2015. (AFP/KENZO TRIBOUILLARD)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — France’s foreign minister said Friday his country will move forward on discussions with its partners on a possible UN Security Council resolution that could present a framework for negotiations toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Laurent Fabius said “there is no other solution.” He spoke to reporters Friday at UN headquarters before planning to leave for the Iran nuclear talks in Switzerland.

France put off a previous council resolution to wait for the results of Israel’s election. Now Fabius indicated that France will take up that effort again as soon as Israel’s new government is formed.

Fabius said he didn’t know what the United States, Israel’s ally, would agree to.

At the same time, European Union officials said Friday the EU was assessing new ways to push Israel back to the peace negotiating table with the Palestinians for a deal based on a two-state solution.

The EU was exploring new diplomatic terrain and could consider ways to discourage Europeans from buying products from Israeli settlements it considers illegal.

Among measures that could be considered if things don’t improve are consumer information campaigns about the origin of settlement produce or warnings to companies about the risks of doing business there, according to an EU document leaked in Israeli media, and confirmed by an EU official. Another could be to send European observers to watch over Palestinian house demolitions or evictions and even monitor court cases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election rhetoric has fueled doubts about Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution — a cornerstone of EU and US policies for ending the Middle East conflict. An EU diplomat said the premier’s remarks could amount to “a fundamental breach” of policy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo by Nati Shohat/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo by Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

The UN’s top Middle East envoy challenged the Security Council on Thursday to lead the way on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his final report to the Security Council as Middle East coordinator, Robert Serry said “I frankly do not know if it is already too late” to revive peace talks aimed at the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Serry said that Netanyahu’s new government must take steps to freeze settlements that are threatening to “kill the very possibility of reaching peace.”

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

“The minimum conditions of trust cannot be restored without the new Israeli government taking credible steps to freeze settlement activity,” the Dutch diplomat told the 15-member council.

The appeal from the top UN envoy came as Netanyahu began talks on forming a new government after vowing in a campaign interview that he would not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state under his watch.

The Israeli prime minister later backtracked on his comments but the US administration appeared unconvinced while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Netanyahu to renew his commitment to a two-state solution.

Netanyahu said the Middle East had become more treacherous since he first made his commitment in principle to a two-state solution, but he stressed after winning last week’s elections that he had not repudiated that commitment and that he remained a supporter of what he called a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.

“We will not forget or ignore what was being said during the campaign and in particular some of the incendiary statements by Prime Minister Netanyahu,” German EU lawmaker Reinhard Buetikofer told The Associated Press Friday.

The Europeans are aware that the rhetoric could remain at fever pitch for the next month as the Israeli leader negotiates a new coalition government and they are reluctant to move too far too fast.

“We first have to wait for the policy that new Israeli government is going to set out,” Buetikofer said.

“EU diplomacy will likely remain in a sort of listening mode for a while, looking at what might be Netanyahu’s political and diplomatic signaling strategy, and it will also probably adjust its actions accordingly,” said Andrea Frontini, analyst at European Policy Centre think-tank.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned last week that Britain and Germany had been holding back the European Union from taking a tougher stance with Israel and expressed concern for the prospects of a two-state solution.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond during a joint press conference at the Israeli Knesset, in Jerusalem on July 24, 2014. (Photo credit: Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond during a joint press conference at the Israeli Knesset, in Jerusalem on July 24, 2014. (Photo credit: Flash90)

Britain, he said, was willing to work with whichever government resulted from the elections, but he made it clear that the international community expects the next Israeli leadership to work towards a peace deal.

“The window [for a two-state solution] is closing because of settlement patterns as much as anything else,” Hammond said. “If we see restraint in terms of not settling new areas, areas that are critical to the coherence of a two-state solution, the window will be a bit bigger. But it’s I’m afraid what feels and looks like a deliberate campaign of trying to sabotage the delivery of a two-state solution that is causing most concern over the past couple of years. For many people that’s what it looks like.”

“Many of my European colleagues are becoming incredibly frustrated by the process,” Hammon said. “They want to support Israel but they need something back in return. They need some clear sense that Israel is at least willing to try to find a two-state solution. To be brunt, it’s only the really robust position that Britain and Germany take that has held the line from seeing the EU questioning more the position we collectively take.”

On Monday Britain’s prime minister spoke with Netanyahu by phone, urging him to pursue a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

David Cameron told Netanyahu that a negotiated solution that created a Palestinian state was the best way to “achieve a lasting peace and to secure Israel’s long-term security and prosperity,” the British Guardian reported.

Longtime Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat said Monday that the Palestinian Authority was taking its case to international bodies because it believes that Netanyahu does not support a two-state solution.

Saeb Erekat (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)
Saeb Erekat (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

Speaking Monday afternoon at the annual J Street conference in Washington, DC, Erekat challenged the Obama administration, saying “those who say they believe in a two-state solution should not recognize one state” in international institutions. “They should recognize two states.”

“We have realized that Benjamin Netanyahu is not a two-stater,” Erekat said. “And that is why we thought to ourselves what do we do to save the two-state solution, and so we went to the United Nations.”

Although the US has long opposed any UN recognition of state status for the Palestinian Authority, Washington has signaled that things might be changing. Following Netanyahu’s pre-election comments which were interpreted as a disavowal of his commitment-in-principle to establishing a Palestinian state, the Obama administration has intimated that the longstanding policy at the United Nations might be changing.

The US refrained from speaking at a United Nations discussion of violations of human rights in the Palestinian territories Monday, saying the move was done in support of Israel.

A statement by US Ambassador Keith Harper to the Human Rights Council in Geneva confirmed an Israeli claim that the US silence was meant to back Jerusalem against the historically anti-Israel panel, and not as a result of tensions between US president Barack Obama and Netanyahu, as had been reported.

“Our non-participation in this debate underscores our position that Item 7 lacks legitimacy, as it did last year when we also refrained from speaking,” Harper said. “The United States’ approach to the Human Rights Council’s Item 7 has not changed.”

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