Palestinians welcome French peace initiative
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Palestinians welcome French peace initiative

Paris says May summit to go ahead despite Netanyahu opposition; PA PM Hamdallah hopes fresh push will establish ‘parameters’ for talks

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on May 15, 2016 in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP Photo/Fadi Arouri)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on May 15, 2016 in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP Photo/Fadi Arouri)

The Palestinians have welcomed France’s plan to host a Mideast peace conference in the coming weeks in a bid to revive frozen Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah told foreign reporters on Monday that after two decades of on-and-off negotiations with Israel, the Palestinians hope the French conference will help bring about new “parameters” for talks.

Hamdallah cited the international community’s nuclear agreement with Iran as a possible precedent. “When the international community came together, a peaceful settlement was found for the Iranian issue. Why not for Palestine?” he said.

On May 30, Paris is to host an international meeting of 20 countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, to discuss the peace process. Israel and the Palestinians have not been invited.

Israel has rejected the initiative, saying direct negotiations are the only way to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.

Speaking to ministers ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “any other attempt only makes peace more remote and gives the Palestinians an escape hatch to avoid confronting the root of the conflict.”

“They simply avoid negotiating with us as part of their desire to avoid resolving the root of the conflict, which is recognizing the national state of the Jewish People, i.e. the State of Israel,” he said.

Netanyahu also slammed France’s “scandalous decision” to vote in favor of a UNESCO resolution “which doesn’t recognize the millennia-old connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount,” saying it “casts a shadow on France’s impartiality in any forum it’s trying to convene.”

On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who met with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a one-day visit to the region, said Israel’s opposition to the summit would not weaken France’s resolve and the conference will take place next month as planned.

Ayrault said the conference is not a replacement for direct talks and is just the beginning of a process aimed at bringing Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on May 15, 2016 during a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Pool/Menahem Kahana)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on May 15, 2016 during a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Pool/Menahem Kahana)

“It’s clear to us — and I said this to Netanyahu and Abbas — that we cannot fulfill the role of the two sides,” Ayrault said. “They will need to carry out direct negotiations, but because the process is stuck, they need external help. The goal [of the conference] is to encourage them to return to the negotiating table.”

“We are not giving up, and neither are our partners,” he added.

The United States has yet to say whether Secretary of State John Kerry, who was the central force behind the latest failed round of peace talks in 2014, would attend the Paris summit.

According to a Monday report in Haaretz, Kerry, who is scheduled to be in Cairo on the same day, told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas he intends to attend the May 30 meeting.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told the paper Kerry spoke to Abbas by phone three days ago and “made clear” his plans to attend the summit.

Ayrault said on Sunday the US “shared our concern” and France would be willing to move the conference “a day or two” in order to allow Kerry to attend, signaling for the first time the involvement and support of the United States.

US-brokered peace talks broke down in April 2014 after a nine-month effort to get the sides to hammer out an agreement.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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