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French official to visit Israel to push peace confab

Despite Israeli opposition to conference, special envoy for initiative will arrive Sunday for talks in Ramallah and Tel Aviv

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

File: Pierre Vimont, France's special envoy for peace initiative  (Youtube screenshot)
File: Pierre Vimont, France's special envoy for peace initiative (Youtube screenshot)

France’s special envoy for its initiative to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will visit Israel next week in an effort to advance plans for a regional peace conference this summer, the French Embassy in Israel announced Thursday.

Pierre Vimont, the French Foreign Ministry envoy “for the preparation of the international conference to renew the Middle East peace process,” will arrive in Israel on Sunday for two days of meetings with officials in Ramallah and Tel Aviv.

The international summit is scheduled to take place in June or July, over Israeli complaints that peace negotiations should take the form of direct talks.

On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said France will not “automatically” recognize a Palestinian state if the conference does not go ahead, walking back pledges to do so by his predecessor Laurent Fabius,

“There is never anything automatic. France will present its initiative to its partners. It will be the first step, there is no prerequisite,” Ayrault said when asked at a press conference in Cairo about Fabius’s remarks.

French Foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault during a press conference following a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Cairo, March 9, 2016. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault during a press conference following a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Cairo, March 9, 2016. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

Ayrault was visiting Egypt to discuss the viability of the French initiative.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had rejected Fabius’s ultimatum as counterproductive, arguing that the confab was doomed to fail since the Palestinians were being told they would gain recognition if no results were achieved. Still, Jerusalem has said it would study the framework for the conference when official invitations are sent out and would carefully weigh its response.

Vimont, the French special envoy, this week attended the 5th Extraordinary Islamic Summit on Palestine and Al-Quds (Jerusalem) in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

The summit, entitled “Uniting for a Just and Lasting Solution,” was also attended by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

During his Israel trip, Vimont will reportedly will also meet with Arab and international officials to discuss the framework for a meeting that will take place in April to set the agenda for the conference.

The April meeting is for an international support group composed of world powers US, Russia, China, France and the UK, as well as the “Arab quartet,” Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan and Egypt. Additionally, Brazil, Japan, Germany, South Africa and India will attend. Neither Israeli or Palestinian officials will attend the meeting in April.

Dov Lieber contributed to this report.

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