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France urges new ‘Quartet-plus’ with Arab envoys

FM Fabius praises ‘interesting’ Arab Peace Initiative; appears to back down on UN resolution for Israeli-Palestinian peace

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius leaving the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 24, 2015. (AFP/Dominique Faget)
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius leaving the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 24, 2015. (AFP/Dominique Faget)

France wants a new international group made up of the United States, European powers and Arab countries to be set up to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday.

“It could be a sort of Quartet-plus,” Fabius told reporters, referring to the foursome led by former British prime minister Tony Blair that included the United States, Russia, the European Union.

Fabius said including Arab states “makes sense” because they have a role to play in the peace process and have put forward a plan in 2002 that the foreign minister described as “interesting.”

He warned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could explode “at any moment” and the Islamic State extremist group could interfere at any time.

“If and when it explodes, it’s very, very, very problematic for the whole region and for the world,” he said.

He said that “every radical group,” especially in Gaza, can take advantage of the deadlocked peace process, and it would be lamentable if the Islamic State group — “the most radical of the radicals” — used this as a pretext for violence.

The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative calls for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank in exchange for full normalization of ties between Israel and the Arab world.

“It will be necessary to have an international accompanying body,” Fabius told reporters in New York where he was to attend a UN meeting on climate change.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been comatose since a failed US diplomatic effort in April last year, and a 50-day war in the Gaza Strip last summer left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, according to Palestinian sources in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip; and 73 Israelis, including 66 soldiers. Israel said about half of those killed in Gaza were combatants and blamed Hamas for all civilian casualties, since it placed military infrastructure in residential areas.

Fabius appeared to step back from France’s proposal to present a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that would set a timetable for reaching a final Israeli-Palestinian deal.

“The resolution is a tool, not an end in itself,” said the foreign minister.

“The first thing is this question of getting back to negotiation and having this international accompanying body and if a resolution — if and when a resolution is necessary — we will think about it,” he said.

Fabius had said in late March that France would begin talks on a draft resolution but a question mark remained over whether the United States, Israel’s close ally, would back such an initiative.

“France is keen about not abandoning this problem,” he said, adding that the risk of an “explosion” in the region was real.

In December, the Security Council rejected a resolution drafted by Arab countries that would have set a two-year timetable to achieve a final peace deal paving the way to a Palestinian state.

The United States voted against the resolution, but did not resort to its veto power after the measure failed to garner the required nine votes for adoption.

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