Palestinians reject Netanyahu’s direct talks proposal
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Palestinians reject Netanyahu’s direct talks proposal

Israeli premier said he’d meet Abbas in Paris instead of backing French-led multilateral talks planned for next month

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (left) and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (right) meet in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 24, 2016. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (left) and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (right) meet in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 24, 2016. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah dismissed Tuesday an Israeli proposal for direct negotiations instead of a French multilateral peace initiative.

“Time is short,” Hamdallah said. “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is trying to buy time… but this time he will not escape the international community.”

Hamdallah made the comments as he met French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who has held talks in Israel and the Palestinian territories this week to push Paris’s peace initiative.

The June 3 Paris summit has been welcomed by the Palestinians, who suspended a planned UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements to focus on the French efforts. Israel, however, has consistently argued that peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the two sides, rather than in international forums.

During a Monday meeting with Valls, Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that the international conference was being used by the Palestinian leadership as a way to avoid direct talks with Israel.

“The Palestinian Authority does not see the French initiative as an inducer for negotiations, but as a way to avoid them,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with his French counterpart, Manuel Valls, in Jerusalem on Monday, May 23, 2016 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with his French counterpart, Manuel Valls, in Jerusalem on Monday, May 23, 2016 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Instead, Netanyahu said, he would be willing to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “in Paris or wherever,” and hold face-to-face negotiations without international mediation. “Every difficult issue will be on the table,” he said.

Valls said he would welcome direct negotiations and would speak to French President Francois Hollande about the proposal.

During his visit to the region, Valls met with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials in an effort to bolster support for the conference. He arrived in Israel on Sunday and is set to return to France Tuesday afternoon.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has welcomed the summit, which will host a meeting of foreign ministers from 20 countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, without the Israelis and Palestinians present.

According to the plan, another conference would then be held in the autumn, this time with the Israelis and Palestinians in attendance. The goal would be to eventually restart negotiations that would lead to a Palestinian state.

Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.

AFP contributed to this report.

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