“The Palestinians can have a state,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared at the opening meeting of the Knesset’s summer session on Monday, hours after he told the French prime minister he was ready to sit down the PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris next month.
“Our government seeks peace,” Netanyahu said, to tittering from the opposition. “I’m willing to take bold steps with the help of regional partners."
“I hope to make diplomatic progress based on a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes Israel as the Jewish State... These are not preconditions to open talks. Talks must be direct, bilateral and without international diktats,” the prime minister added.
Earlier, during a meeting with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in Jerusalem, Netanyahu told him France should hold direct Israeli and Palestinian talks at its June 3 parley in Paris on the frozen peace process.
“Israelis and Palestinians have suffered too much. It’s time to sit down together and work out our differences so that peace may reign at long last,” he told the French leader.
Valls told Netanyahu he would relay his offer to French President Francois Hollande.
The meeting will include ministers from some 20 countries, including the US, in which a new French peace initiative would be launched.
Currently, Israelis and Palestinians are not invited to the conference, in which the ministers will plan a large peace conference in the fall and discuss trust building measures to help lay the groundwork for renewed talks. The last peace process, which was brokered by the US, fell apart in 2014. US Secretary of State John Kerry has said he plans to attend the conference.
“If you really want to help launch peace, then help us launch direct negotiations with [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas,” Netanyahu said, suggesting the French amend their new peace initiative so that it becomes a platform for such talks.
“I’m ready to clear my schedule and fly to Paris tomorrow. Well, I think tomorrow we’re expanding the government, but the day after tomorrow,” Netanyahu quipped, referring to ongoing coalition negotiations with Yisrael Beytenu."
“And it’s an open offer. I will clear my calendar, and I hope that this is taken up by you and by the Palestinians.”
Valls responded that the French government is “in favor of anything that contributes to peace and the resumption of talks.”
The French premier is on his second day of a three-day trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Paris peace conference is high on his agenda.
The Palestinians have welcomed the internationalized process which they hope will set a framework for the process that will included a timeline for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines and a halt of West Bank settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem.
Netanyahu has opposed it, because he believes it allows the Palestinians to bypass talks by turning to the international community.
“The Palestinian leadership doesn’t see the French initiative as an inducement to compromise, but rather as a way to avoid it. In fact, the Palestinian prime minister, [Rami] Hamdallah, let slip the other day his hope for an imposed timetable, rather than a negotiated peace,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu told this to French Foreign Minister Marc Jean Ayrault, who visited last week. At his office in Jerusalem on Monday, he told Valls he would support an amended version of the initiative.
“I would gladly accept a different French initiative, and here’s the one important change,” Netanyahu said.
“This initiative can still take place in Paris, because that would be a marvelous place to sign a peace accord."
“It can still be called the French initiative, because you would host this genuine effort for peace, but here’s the difference: I will sit alone directly with President Abbas in the Élysée Palace, or anywhere else that you choose,” Netanyahu said.
Every issue would be on the table, Netanyahu said. This would include mutual recognition, incitement, borders, refugees and settlements.
“There is no issue too complex to solve if both sides are willing to talk to each other. And I am more than willing; I am eager,” said Netanyahu.
He explained that he knows first hand what it means to fight a war.
“I was injured in battle; I lost a brother; I lost many friends in battle. Israel wants nothing more than peace. And I hope you encourage President Abbas to accept this French initiative: direct negotiations without preconditions, between the Israeli prime minister [and] the Palestinian president in Paris,” Netanyahu said.
“Peace just does not get achieved through international conferences, UN-style. It doesn’t get to fruition through international diktats or committees from countries around the world who are sitting and seeking to decide our fate and our security when they have no direct stake in it,” Netanyahu said.
Israel, he said, is committed to a vision of two states for two people.
What he means by this, Netanyahu told Valls, is a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes a Jewish state.
Earlier, in his meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, Valls said, “You can rest assured that France is sincere in its intentions and desire to try and help Israelis and Palestinians once and for all find a way to a long-awaited peace.”
Valls also met Monday with Opposition leader Isaac Herzog. He then traveled to Bethlehem where he visited the Church of the Nativity. On Tuesday he scheduled to meet PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Ramallah before flying back to France.
The French premier is known as a friend of Israel and for taking a strong stand against anti-Semitism. He has also spoken out against his country’s vote in favor of a UNESCO resolution that ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.
Netanyahu thanked him for those efforts during their meeting.
“I know of your friendship to Israel and your commitment to Franco-Israeli relations, your stalwart position against anti-Semitism and that of Francois Hollande,” Netanyahu said.
“The reason that this [UNESCO] vote was so troubling for us is that it implies that the Jewish people have no right to be here. And I think that remains the core of the conflict, the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to have a nation-state in their ancestral homeland. I hope you encourage other nations that voted for this outrageous resolution to follow your lead and admit it was an error. And of course, the most important thing is that it doesn’t happen again.”