Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday rejected bids to impose a United Nations deadline on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid a flurry of talks led by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Addressing a renewed drive to push the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to the top of the global agenda, Kerry and Netanyahu met for nearly three hours in the US ambassador’s sumptuous residence in Rome.
“The attempts by Palestinians and some European countries to impose conditions on Israel will only deteriorate regional security and endanger Israel, so we strongly oppose it,” Netanyahu said after rejecting the proposed withdrawal to Kerry.
The Americans are seeking to avert an end-of-year showdown at the United Nations Security Council, which could place them in a diplomatic quandary.
The Palestinians have said they will submit an Arab-backed draft text — setting a two-year deadline for an end to Israel’s decades-long control of the West Bank — to the UN as early as Wednesday. Meanwhile, France has been leading European efforts to cobble together a more nuanced resolution that could prove more palatable to the US administration.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, said Monday the Palestinians were planning to put a resolution in a form that could be voted upon on Wednesday, though the council was unlikely to vote immediately.
What that resolution says will depend on the outcome of the high-level negotiations in Europe, Mansour said. He told a group of reporters Monday that the Americans are key.
They have two options: to negotiate on the Palestinian and French texts, or produce their own draft resolution, he said.
Mansour said the French draft is “very, very close to the Arab ideas” and includes a timeframe for negotiations, but the Palestinians “want to define clearly the end to occupation.”
He stressed that the Palestinians will not return to direct negotiations with Israel and strongly support the French proposal for an international conference to promote a peace deal that would include the five veto-wielding Security Council nations, key Arab countries and others.
“We tried direct negotiations for 20 years and they failed,” Mansour said. “That is history.”
The French text would set a two-year timetable, but for concluding a peace treaty without mentioning Israeli withdrawal.
Paris is also hoping to seize more of the initiative by not leaving the negotiations solely in the hands of the US.
“What we are hoping for is a resolution which everyone can get behind,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told AFP.
“Even if the Palestinians have a text in their hand, the Americans have already said that they will veto it,” he said. “So on the one hand this resolution cannot be accepted, but on the other that will clearly get a strong reaction from the Palestinian side.”
“The absence of a peace process is fueling tensions on the ground, so it is imperative to make rapid progress on a UN resolution,” said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal.
“It is vital to relaunch the peace talks as soon as possible and on a credible basis to offer some kind of concrete political horizon to the parties,” he told AFP.
US officials have said Kerry is aiming to learn more about the European initiative during his hastily arranged pre-Christmas trip.
Traditionally, the US has used its power of veto at the UN Security Council to shoot down what it sees as moves against its close regional ally, Israel.
But there is a growing impatience in Europe over the peace impasse amid fears the Middle East risks spiraling into even greater chaos.
Several European parliaments have called on their governments to move ahead with the recognition of a Palestinian state.
US officials told reporters accompanying Kerry that Washington has not yet decided whether to veto or back the French-led UN initiative.
The US administration opposes moves to bind negotiators’ hands through a UN resolution — particularly any attempt to set a deadline for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.
Kerry also met with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and thanked Pope Francis for “his engagement to try to reduce tensions in the region.”
The secretary of state was due to fly to Paris for a dinner meeting with his French, German and British counterparts and the new EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at Orly Aairport.
He will then travel to London to meet with the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and the secretary general of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, on Tuesday.
Fabius, the French foreign minister, is also to meet with Elaraby on Tuesday.
Diplomatic sources say Paris is hoping to persuade the Palestinians to back their compromise resolution, rather than risk a US veto of the more muscular Arab version.
But the Palestinians appear divided, as frustration grows over the snail’s pace of diplomatic efforts, with the decision resting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.