Jerusalem on Saturday downplayed its initial rejection of a new French initiative to kick-start peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, saying the disapproval stemmed from France’s ultimatum that it would recognize a Palestinian state if fresh negotiation efforts fail to yield results.
“The response last night was not at all related to the initiative itself,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, adding that he had been replying to “the threat, and [French Foreign Minister Laurent] Fabius’s incentive for the Palestinians to lead to an impasse and thus get it all without negotiations.”
Fabius said Friday that France would shortly try to convene an international conference, with the hope of enabling new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but that if this effort reached a dead end, Paris would recognize a Palestinian state. “And what will happen if this last-ditch attempt at reaching a negotiated solution hits a stumbling block?” Fabius said. “In that case, we will have to live up to our responsibilities and recognize a Palestinian state.”
Israel had moved quickly Friday to reject the French ultimatum.
“This is not how one conducts negotiations and not how one makes peace,” the prime minister’s spokesman was quoted by the Hebrew daily Haaretz as saying.
Another Israeli source said the French threat to recognize Palestine if negotiations failed was “an incentive” for the Palestinians to be obdurate.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said earlier Saturday that Israel rejected the French ultimatum. “Israel will not negotiate under ultimatums and threats,” he said.
The initial government response drew criticism earlier Saturday from opposition lawmakers, who lambasted Netanyahu for what they said was a policy of stagnation.
An unnamed American official also cautiously rejected the French proposal, according to Reuters.
“The US position on this issue has been clear. We continue to believe that the preferred path to resolve this conflict is for the parties to reach an agreement on final status issues directly,” the official said.
The Palestinians, however, welcomed the French initiative. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday that his people were no longer willing to accept the status quo of Israeli occupation and settlements on land they seek for their own state. He called for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Announcing the plan, Fabius said his country has a responsibility as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to sustain efforts to reach a two-state solution.
“France will engage in the coming weeks in the preparation of an international conference bringing together the parties and their main partners, American, European, Arab, notably to preserve and make happen the solution of two states,” Fabius said. Paris is hoping to hold the conference in the summer.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report