An international peace conference that was set to take place in Paris later this month was reportedly postponed until January 2017, with France seeking additional time to arrange the summit.
According to a report by Channel 10 news, the Palestinian envoy to France has informed his superiors of the delay, saying French officials needed more time to prepare. The Palestinian official insisted Israel’s refusal to participate had nothing to do with the decision, according to the report.
On Monday, France’s new envoy to Israel said the conference would not contain any novel ideas on how to solve the Middle East conflict, but is mainly intended to prevent the issue from disappearing amid other global crises.
“What we propose is nothing new but [we are] trying to keep the subject on the agenda and not letting it down because there are other crises in the world,” Ambassador Hélène Le Gal said. “We continue to propose things and it’s always in a very good spirit toward Israel.”
As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, France is “always keen to propose” solutions to various conflicts across the globe, Le Gal told President Reuven Rivlin after she handed him her letter of credence, officially taking up her post.
Rivlin welcomed the new ambassador and hailed the country’s longstanding support for Israel, but at the same time made plain Jerusalem’s misgivings about the Paris peace summit, originally scheduled for December 21.
On Tuesday, in an Army Radio interview, Le Gal said emphatically that France had no intention of following US President-elect Donald Trump’s lead and contemplating moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Such a move could only happen after a peace agreement was concluded, she said.
Israel has said it will not attend the summit, preferring direct talks instead, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu going so far last week as to offer to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for negotiations in Paris if French President Francois Hollande cancels the confab.
Rivlin said there was little danger of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict falling off the world’s agenda, though he admitted it was important to keep some issues front and center.
“Unfortunately everyone knows that in the Middle East there are no shortcuts. You have to build confidence,” Rivlin said. “The only way to get to an understanding with our cousins, with our neighbors, with our partners — the Palestinians — for being here in this very tiny piece of earth we are sitting on, is only by direct negotiations and the understanding that we have to accept them and they have to accept us.”
Rivlin added that Jerusalem is ready for direct negotiations without preconditions but peace remains remote due to Palestinian recalcitrance.
“Unfortunately most of the Palestinians still reject, from a national and a religious point of view, the existence of a Jewish state of Israel,” he said. “It is needed to explain to them that we are here as a fact. We are already half of the Jewish people here in Israel; more than six and half million Jews live in Israel, and they have to realize we are here.”
“There is no other way but to live together and try to reach for a better future that will bring prosperity to everyone,” he added.
Le Gal, a soft-spoken career diplomat close to President Francois Hollande, was first posted in Israel two decades ago and is considered a friend of Israel.
“For me, to come back is really like coming home in a way, it’s a pleasure,” she said.
The first woman to hold the post, Le Gal replaces Patrick Maisonnave, who held the position since 2013.
The French have been pushing an initiative aimed at revitalizing the moribund peace process between Palestinian and Israelis. While the Palestinians have welcomed the initiative, Israel has remained critical of the plan, arguing that only bilateral negotiations can prove successful.
Since a peace summit in June in Paris officially kicked off the French initiative, three groups have been tasked with examining avenues to propel the peace process forward, according to a report in French newspaper Le Monde last week.
One group has looked at building the institutions needed for the establishment of a Palestinian state; another has studied the economic incentives peace would bring for those involved, in particular for the European Union; while a third group worked on enhancing the participation of civil society in the process.
The proposals of the three groups will be examined during the summit, the report said.
Paris is also reportedly examining different avenues for conveying the findings to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, either on the sidelines of the December summit or by sending representatives to Ramallah and Jerusalem.
Raphael Ahren, Dov Lieber contributed to this report.