Israel won’t attend peace confab, officials inform France

Netanyahu’s aides tell visiting envoy they expect Paris not to push processes in conflict with Israel’s ‘official position’

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

Israel will not participate in an international conference on the peace process hosted by France, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top aides declared Monday.

The French government’s special envoy to the Middle East peace process, Pierre Vimont, is visiting Israel and the Palestinian Authority this week to push Paris’s plan to hold a conference in December.

He met Monday with acting National Security Adviser Yakov Nagel and Netanyahu confidant Isaac Molcho, who told him in “a 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 PA President Mahmoud Abbas to avoid returning to direct bilateral negotiations without preconditions.

“Israel is certain and expects that France will not advance a conference or process contradicting the State of Israel’s official position,” it said.

Netanyahu on Monday morning was hosting his Fijian counterpart, Voreqe Bainimara, and did not meet with Vimont.

The French envoy, a soft-spoken veteran diplomat, was slated to meet with Abbas in Ramallah on Monday evening. He is to travel to the United States next week to take the outgoing administration’s temperature on the planned Paris conference.

On Sunday, Vimont said that while he understands that Israel is opposed to the French initiative, it would send a positive signal if Netanyahu were to attend nonetheless.

“If at the end of the day, the Israeli government would decide to participate in the Paris conference, it will show genuine, sincere commitment to the two-state solution,” he said at a conference in Tel Aviv, according to Haaretz.

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.

“We are in no way trying to impose a solution on the two sides. It is about getting the international community involved again in the peace process,” he said in Tel Aviv.

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