Macron to unveil peace plan soon if Trump doesn’t, top diplomat said to tell MKs
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MKs also warned of 'impact on Israel' of Dem. midterm gains

Macron to unveil peace plan soon if Trump doesn’t, top diplomat said to tell MKs

France will fill the vacuum if the US doesn’t launch its initiative next month, Foreign Ministry’s Alon Ushpiz reported to brief Knesset panel

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the end of a joint press conference following their meeting at the Elysee presidential Palace, in Paris, on December 22, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Francois Mori)
French President Emmanuel Macron (R) shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the end of a joint press conference following their meeting at the Elysee presidential Palace, in Paris, on December 22, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Francois Mori)

If US President Donald Trump does not present his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan next month, France’s President Emmanuel Macron will issue a proposal of his own, a senior Israeli diplomat reportedly told Knesset members at a closed-door briefing.

Alon Ushpiz, the Foreign Ministry’s political director, testified to the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday, in a closed session, that France is waiting out November 6’s US midterm elections, but that if Trump does not present his long-awaited plan in the first few weeks after that vote, Macron will publicize his own formula, TV news reports said.

The reports, on Israel’s Channel 10 and Hadashot TV, quoted MKs who were at the session. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said the reports contained inaccuracies.

Channel 10 said Macron had instructed his foreign ministry in late August to explore new ideas for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that the French president had now signaled to Trump that if the US does not move ahead, Paris will. The Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry were spending considerable time discussing the possible Macron plan, the TV reports said.

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace on December 10, 2017 in Paris. (AFP/Ludovic Marin)

A spokesperson for the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said the reports “do not properly reflect” Ushpiz’s remarks to lawmakers.

“Naturally, due to the [closed] forum, we cannot elaborate beyond this,” the spokesperson said.

The reports came a day after Channel 10 quoted Trump last month telling Macron that he was prepared to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept the administration’s long-gestating peace initiative.

Trump and Netanyahu are reportedly set to travel to Paris around November 11 for World War I centenary ceremonies hosted by Macron.

Also Monday, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner expressed impatience with the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock, telling CNN: “The status quo between Israel and the Palestinians is not acceptable. The situation is only getting worse. At some point, the leaders will have to take a bold step and make compromise. We hope to find leaderships that are ready to do so.”

According to Tuesday evening’s TV reports, Ushpiz also told MKs on Monday that Israel expects the Democrats to make gains in next month’s midterm elections, and that this would have impact and implications for Israel. He reportedly called the midterms “critical” for Israel, and said Israel anticipates the Democrats will make gains in Congress and “things won’t be the same.”

Alon Ushpiz (YouTube screenshot)

Trump said at a meeting with Netanyahu last month that he expected to publish his plan within four months. Speaking to The Times of Israel last month, Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, said the plan “will include a resolution to all of the core issues, including the refugee issue,” and will “be heavily focused on Israeli security needs.”

Greenblatt added: “But we also want to be fair to the Palestinians. We have tried hard to find a good balance. Each side will find things in this plan that they don’t like. There are no perfect solutions.”

Kushner said Monday that a “reasonable” Palestinian leadership will be willing to negotiate with Israel based on the Trump plan.

The Palestinian Authority has preemptively rejected the plan and has boycotted the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year.

Ushpiz also reportedly told MKs that Israeli officials “are not managing” to persuade visiting diplomats and administration officials to accept Israeli positions when it comes to Gaza, because the Israeli narrative pales by comparison to the simple reality of the humanitarian situation in the Hamas-run Strip.

He also reportedly said that the Foreign Ministry has not been formally tasked by Netanyahu — who is also Israel’s foreign minister — with trying to convince countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem.

“It’s a political matter,” Ushpiz reportedly said. “It hasn’t been defined as a mission for the Foreign Ministry.” Relocating an embassy sometimes requires Israel “to intervene in the internal affairs of countries — and that does not work to our benefit,” Ushpiz reportedly added.

The US moved its embassy to Jerusalem in May. Guatemala and Paraguay followed suit, but Paraguay returned its embassy to Tel Aviv last month after a change in government.

According to Channel 10 on Monday, Trump told Macron on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September he was willing to “be tough” on Israel in peace negotiations. Such a move would mark a significant shift in the US approach to peace talks so far, which has seen a number of concessions to Israel and punitive measures against Ramallah, stoking Palestinian anger and a boycott of efforts to jump-start peace talks.

According to the report, which cited four Western diplomats with knowledge of the matter, Trump told Macron: “I’ve given a lot to Netanyahu. I moved the embassy to Jerusalem… We give Israel $5 billion a year. I can be tough with Netanyahu on the peace plan, just like I’ve been tough on the Palestinians.”

When Macron told the US leader that he was under the impression that Netanyahu preferred the status quo over making progress on a peace deal, Trump reportedly replied: “You know, Emmanuel, I’m very close to reaching that same conclusion.”

US President Donald Trump, right, meets with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Lotte New York Palace hotel, during the United Nations General Assembly, September 24, 2018, in New York. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Responding to the report, a White House official told The Times of Israel that “the president believes that the prime minister is committed to pursuing a comprehensive and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” Trump, the official added, “has faith in the prime minister’s efforts.”

The reported comments to Macron took place three days before Trump, during a meeting with Netanyahu at the UN, said he favors the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seemingly signaling a reversal in the administration’s previous refusal to endorse the formula. He later backtracked.

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