French envoy indicates Paris to back anti-settlement UN motion

French envoy indicates Paris to back anti-settlement UN motion

Draft to be voted on Thursday night ‘balanced’ and ‘very close to what we’ve been saying publicly,’ says Ambassador Hélène Le Gal

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Incoming French ambassador to Israel Helene Le Gal with President Reuven Rivlin during a ceremony for new ambassadors at the President's residence in Jerusalem, December 12, 2016. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)
Incoming French ambassador to Israel Helene Le Gal with President Reuven Rivlin during a ceremony for new ambassadors at the President's residence in Jerusalem, December 12, 2016. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

France is likely to vote in favor of a United Nations Security Council resolution that condemns Israel’s settlement building, the country’s new envoy to Israel said Thursday, calling the resolution “balanced” and saying it expresses positions widely accepted by the international community.

“What’s in this text is very close to what we’ve been saying publicly,” Ambassador Hélène Le Gal told a group of Israeli journalists in her Jaffa residence. “The content of this resolution corresponds to what we’ve saying on this issue” all along, she said.

Paris traditionally supports pro-Palestinian resolutions in international forums.

Late Wednesday, in a surprise move, Egypt — which currently holds a non-permanent seat and represents the Arab Group in the council — circulated a draft that will be voted on at 10 p.m. Israel time Thursday.

The current Egyptian draft is a softened version of an earlier draft the Palestinians had been circulating, and can now be considered “balanced,” Le Gal said. “The text says that settlements are an obstacle to peace, but it also condemns violence.”

The most recent draft of the resolution, which is subject to change due to last-minute negotiations, expresses “grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution” and condemns “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction.”

Echoing the language of a 2002 Security Council resolution that the US voted in favor of, the resolution also describes its vision of a “region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders.”

Passing a Security Council resolution condemning the settlements is especially important due to “signals” from the Israeli government that it is becoming increasingly supportive of the settlement enterprise, Le Gal said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his government’s “love for settlement” during Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “There has not been a government that showed more concern for settlement in the Land of Israel and no government will show more concern,” he declared.

Netanyahu called on the United States to veto the “anti-Israel resolution,” in a tweet posted early Thursday.

Asked by The Times of Israel if she expected any concrete outcome as a consequence of the resolution’s possible passage, or whether it would be just one more declarative statement that will change nothing on the ground, the ambassador replied: “If it passes, it will show the actors in the region, especially Israel, that the international community is very worried about the future of the two-state solution, and that the settlements are an obstacle to peace. A Security Council resolution has more weight than a mere declaration.”

The belief held by some Israelis that the world is anti-Semitic and therefore focuses on condemning Israel is mistaken, Le Gal added. “The idea that ‘everyone is against us’ is false. Because everybody is with Israel, that’s why we have to say something.”

The ambassador, who officially took up her post two weeks ago, also discussed the French government’s plan to convene an international peace conference in Paris next month.

“We want to continue the mobilization of the international community on behalf of the two-state solution,” Le Gal said. The planned summit’s two key objectives are to not let the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be forgotten in light of other regional crises, and to explore with Arab states how they could contribute to peace, she added.

Leaders from Arab states were willing to attend the conference and meet with Netanyahu there, the veteran diplomat, who is close to President Francois Hollande, said. Netanyahu has told Hollande that he is willing to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris on the condition that there is no international peace conference. Since Paris refuses to scrap its plans, the Israeli leader has been unwilling to attend the summit or even to meet Abbas before or after the event, according to Le Gal.

“We’re not proposing to be mediators,” she added. “It is up to the parties to find an agreement. The idea of our conference is to see what the international community can do to support this process.”

Asked if she expects Arab participants of the Paris conference to be willing to update the Arab Peace Initiative — which promises Israel full diplomatic relations with the entire Muslim world after a peace deal with the Palestinians is reached — Le Gal said the conference was part of a “process.” She added, “If we do nothing, nothing will happen.”

On December 12, as she presented her credentials to President Reuven Rivlin, she said that conference would not offer 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,” Le Gal said. “We continue to propose things and it’s always in a very good spirit toward Israel.”

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