Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The only path to peace is through bilateral relations between Israel and the Palestinians, the Prime Minister’s Office said Thursday, formally rejecting a French peace initiative calling for an international Middle East peace conference.
France announced recently that it would hold an international summit in Paris on May 30 to discuss the parameters of a peace deal. The summit would include some 30 countries and international organizations – including a number of Arab nations and the Mideast Quartet of the US, Russia, the EU and the UN – but not Israel or the Palestinian Authority.
This summit would be followed by a peace conference in the second half of the year that would, according to the plan, include Israel and the Palestinians.
The statement issued by the PMO said that Israel “adheres to its position that the best way to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is direct, bilateral negotiations. Israel is ready to begin them immediately without preconditions. Any other diplomatic initiative distances the Palestinians from direct negotiations.”
The Palestinians have welcomed the French initiative, with Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said they were “looking forward to help.”
Last month France was one of 33 countries, including four from the EU, that supported a UNESCO resolution that infuriated Israel because it expunged any mention of a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. Six other EU countries voted against the resolution, and two abstained.
France’s special Mideast envoy Pierre Vimont was in Israel last month trying to sell the initiative to Israeli diplomats. Two weeks ago Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that no one really understands what the French initiative is about.
And at a press conference alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin in February, Netanyahu said the French initiative was “puzzling,” as the French have already stated that they would recognize a Palestinian state if the international conference failed.
Netanyahu said it was odd for the French to say in advance they would recognize a Palestinian state if the peace conference fails without knowing whether that state may turn into yet another dictatorship in the region; whether that state “really intends to end the conflict” with Israel and “recognize the ‘state of the Jews’; and without knowing if there will be security arrangements in that state to prevent Hamas, Islamic State or both from taking over land from which Israel might withdraw.
“Obviously this ensures that a conference will fail,” Netanyahu said.
“Because if the Palestinians know that their conditions will be accepted a priori, and they don’t have to do anything [to compromise], then certainly there is an internal contradiction and they will not do anything.”
Netanyahu said the only way to promote peace is “through negotiations without preconditions, directly between the two sides. That is the real way, and anyone who tries to divert from that path will not advance successful negotiations.”
French Foreign Minister Jean- Marc Ayrault will arrive in Israel on May 12 to discuss the summit with Netanyahu.