The French warning to recognize Palestine as a state if a new multilateral diplomatic push to resolve the conflict fails, gives Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas an excuse not to negotiate with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli officials said.
“It’s an erroneous approach,” they said.
The officials spoke in response to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius’s announcement on Friday that France hopes to organize an international peace summit that would be attended by Israelis and Palestinians, as well as other international actors like the United States, European Union and Arab countries.
Fabius threatened that France would formally recognize a Palestinian state should its efforts to renew the peace process fail.
“France will engage in the coming weeks in the preparation of an international conference bringing together the parties and their main partners to preserve and achieve the two-state solution,” Fabius told a conference of French diplomats in Paris.
“If this attempt to achieve a negotiated solution reaches a dead end, we will take responsibility and recognize the Palestinian state.”
Israeli officials said Netanyahu would decide whether or not to participate in the conference only after receiving an invitation.
The threat to recognize Palestinian statehood should the initiative fail dooms the process to failure before it even starts.
“Why would the Palestinians compromise on even the smallest iota in the conference, if they know from that start, that if progress is not made, they will get what they want?” the officials asked.
To date, 136 countries recognize Palestine as a state.
If France makes good on its threat to follow suit, it would be the first major European power to do so. Sweden recognized Palestine as a state last year.
Abbas on Saturday welcomed the latest French initiative.
Abbas, who has recently renewed his call for holding an international conference to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said in a speech before the 26th African Union Summit in Ethiopia, “We welcome the French initiative and affirm that the status quo cannot continue. Our people will continue to use political and legal methods, through a peaceful and popular resistance, to achieve our national rights.”
The Palestinian leader reiterated the call for convening a world conference for peace in the Middle East. He also called for the United Nations Security Council to play a larger role in the conflict.
“We are not going to return to the negotiations [with Israel] for the sake of negotiating,” Abbas said. “And we won’t remain the only ones to implement the signed agreements [with Israel]. We will never accept provisional or partial solutions and we will continue to work for peace.
It’s inconceivable for Israel to remain a country above international law.”
Abbas said that the Palestinians were working to fulfill their vision of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel so that they could live in peace and security. He also renewed his demand for providing international protection for the Palestinians.
Abbas accused Israel of seeking to change the status quo at the Temple Mount and warned that this could turn the political conflict into a religious one. He also accused Israel of working toward changing the character and identity of east Jerusalem.
“Peace and security in our region won’t be achieved unless the occupation and settlements end,” Abbas added. “We need to build bridges instead of walls. Our hand is extended for peace that is based on justice. We shall remain on this land.”
Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat also welcomed the French initiative.
“We have been calling upon the international community to have an international conference for Palestine based on international law and UN resolutions, with the parties implementing their obligations under signed agreements; including a full cessation of Israeli settlement activities within a specified time frame and terms of reference,” Erekat said in a statement.
“We will be contacting France, as well as other international parties, to advance in that direction.”
PLO Executive Committee member Ahmed Majdalani said the French initiative marks the “beginning of the end of the American monopoly over the peace process.”
He said that the Israeli government’s rejection of the initiative was “proof that it sponsors terrorism and is working toward ending the two-state solution.”
Majdalani said the Israeli stance also shows that the Palestinians do not have a peace partner in the Israeli government.
Intelligence Services Minister Israel Katz said Israel would not go to a summit under threats.
“Saying they would endorse a Palestinian state if the summit does not happen certainly won’t encourage the Palestinians to make concessions,” Katz said on Channel 2’s Meet the Press.
“There is a lot of hypocrisy in the world against us,” Katz said.
At a Shabbat cultural event in Neveh Monosson, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said the ultimatum points to a serious deterioration in Israel’s international standing.
He said that in the past, a permanent member of the UN Security Council would not have announced unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state without discussing it with Israel first.
“Israel will not be coerced into negotiations,” Lapid said. “We won’t be dragged by threats to the negotiating table. No sovereign nation would accept that. We need to enter negotiations on our terms and according to our timetable, with an understanding that we do not want, and must not try, to absorb 3.5 million Palestinians. But it won’t be like this.”
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni said that until Israel has its own diplomatic initiative, international pressure on Israel would continue to tighten.
She said the current diplomatic stalemate serves only the Palestinians and harms Israel.
MK Nachman Shai of the Zionist Union said Israel should seriously consider the French proposal. He said Israel should always display willingness to negotiate.
A US official responded cautiously to Fabius’s statement, saying that, “The US position on this issue has been clear.
We continue to believe that the preferred path to resolve this conflict is for the parties to reach an agreement on final-status issues directly.”
Separately, US Vice President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, the White House said in a statement.
The two leaders discussed ongoing efforts to improve Israel-Turkey relations and to increase energy cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean, the White House said.
Reuters contributed to this report.