French President Francois Hollande invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to meet in Paris on the sidelines of a conference on the peace process slated for December 21, the French newspaper Le Monde reported.
The French have been pushing a initiative aimed at revitalizing the moribund peace process between Palestinian and Israelis. While the Palestinians have welcomed the initiative, Israel has remained critical of the plan, arguing that only bilateral negotiations can prove successful.
Netanyahu has repeatedly said he is willing to meet with Abbas anytime and anywhere. However, one unnamed Israeli diplomat told Le Monde he thought Netanyahu would decline the invitation without making a “big affair” out of it, explaining it would make no sense to hold the meeting with the seemingly pro-Israeli US President-elect Donald Trump about to take office.
Abbas has also expressed willingness to meet with Netanyahu, without the oft-cited preconditions of a total freeze of a settlement construction and release of Palestinian prisoners promised during previous negotiations. In September, Abbas said he had agreed to meet with Netanyahu in Moscow at the behest of the Kremlin, and it was the Israeli leader who asked that the meeting be delayed.
Since a peace summit in June in Paris officially kicked off the French initiative, Le Monde said in its report Tuesday, three groups have been tasked with examining avenues to propel the peace process forward. 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 December summit or by sending representatives to Ramallah and Jerusalem.
A senior Israeli official confirmed on Wednesday to the Haaretz daily that Hollande had invited Abbas and Netanyahu to meet in Paris in two weeks’ time.
In early November, two of Netanyahu’s top aides met with France’s special envoy for the planned conference, Pierre Vimont, and told him Israel would not participate in the meeting.
Acting National Security Adviser Yakov Nagel and Netanyahu confidant Yitzhak Molcho told the French diplomat in an “unambiguous and unequivocal fashion” that real progress and a lasting peace agreement could only emerge through direct bilateral negotiations between Israel and the PA, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
“Any other initiatives only distance the region from such a process,” the statement continued. “It was explained to the French envoy that Israel will not participate in any international conference convened in opposition to its position.”
The French initiative “greatly harms the possibilities for advancing the peace process,” the statement said, arguing that it would allow Abbas to avoid returning to direct bilateral negotiations without preconditions.
The French are aware that it is currently impossible to get Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate in earnest, let alone reach a peace agreement, officials in Paris said. The proposed international conference is not intended to force either side into concessions or even to formulate a framework for a future agreement.
Rather, one of its core goals is to get both parties, as well as regional and international actors, to restate clearly their commitment to the two-state solution.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.