Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s envoys on Monday rejected a French call that it attend an international peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will likely be held in December in Paris.
Only direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians will lead to a final agreement for a two-state solution, Netanyahu’s envoys, attorney Yitzhak Molcho and acting National Security Council head Yaakov Nagel said.
They conveyed this message in a meeting with France’s envoy for the initiative Pierre Vimont, who met with them in Jerusalem during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories to secure support for the conference.
This initiative only distances rather than advances peace, they told Vimont.
Israel will not attend any conference that is convened without its consent and which touts an approach to the resolution of the conflict which it opposes, the envoys said in their conversation with Vimont.
Such a conference only allows for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to avoid engaging in direct talks without pre-conditions, they added.
“Israel expects France not to advance an initiative or a process that is against the official stance of the state of Israel,” the envoys said.
On Sunday, Vimont said that Israel could send the world an important message about its commitment to peace if it attended the conference.
“If the Israeli government would decide to come to such a conference, it would be a perfect arena so that everyone, at last, would think that the commitment by the Israeli government to a two-state solution is genuine, sincere and deeply based and grounded in strong convictions,” Vimont said.
He spoke about the Paris gathering, which will likely be held at the end of December, while addressing the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv.
Vimont explained that his country’s plan, which was launched in June, is about helping Israelis and Palestinians return to the negotiating table, and is not about enforcing any one resolution to the conflict over another.
“The time is not right for direct talks,” Vimont said. In the interim, he said, work can be done to ensure that such talks are fruitful when they do occur.
As a first step, he said, “it is important for all those ready to endorse the two-state solution, to say so publicly.”
Vimont added that the conference is looking to set conditions to allow the resumption of negotiations, understanding that such talks cannot happen at this time.
This isn’t a new process or an attempt to dictate terms of a peace deal, he said. Rather, it is an attempt to use existing vehicles to push the process forward. Should it be approved, the conference’s conclusion could be put forward in the form of a UN Security Council resolution, but that was not the goal of gathering.
The conference and the conclusions it would reach would operate in conjunction with other initiatives that are on the table, and could even fold them into its large umbrella of options, he said.
This includes efforts by Russia, which has called for a meeting between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he said. On Thursday, Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev is due to arrive in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Vimont said that past proposals such as the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, could also be part of the French initiative, and would most certainly compliment it.
“[The Arab Peace Initiative] is a regional track that could be supportive and complementary to what is being done with regard to the peace process,” Vimont said.
The conference could be a good arena to revive support for the Arab Peace Initiative, “even going as far as giving it a new presentation, an operational one, so that everyone would understand what the choreography and sequence would be about,” he said.
The process is open to all the interested parties, he said.
“We are working with the European Union, the Quartet, the Arab League and whomever wants to be involved,” said Vimont.
This also includes, the United States, said Vimont, adding that his initiative could have inspired renewed American involvement.
US Secretary of State John Kerry “is back on track with some of his ideas for regional initiatives,” Vimont said.
Countries like China, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, Senegal, Brazil, Australia and Canada have asked what they can do help, Vimont said.
Last week, France had a meeting on the economic dimensions of the peace process and China traveled to Paris specifically to attend that gathering, Vimont said.
He also did not rule out the possibility that other parties could work on a UN resolution separate from the peace conference.
“We have no problem if anyone comes forward with a draft resolution, be it on parameters and settlements,” Vimont said. “We [would] look at the value of the draft itself. The idea has never been ‘well, the French initiative is going on, everyone should shut up and stay put and wait to see what happens."
“This is why, precisely as I speak, we are in very close contact with our colleagues in the outgoing Obama Administration to assure them that if ever they decide, after the 8th of November, to go forward with some initiative, it is working with good coordination with what we are trying to do,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he believed that the new US administration will not try to impose unilateral terms on Israelis and Palestinians to end their conflict.
“We expect that the US will remain faithful to the principle that it has set over many years, that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute can be resolved only by direct negotiations without preconditions and, of course, not in decisions by the UN or other international institutions,” Netanyahu said before the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.
“Whoever is elected the new president, I am convinced that US-Israel relations, which are solid and strong, will not only remain as such, but will strengthen further,” Netanyahu said just two days before the United States heads to the polls to choose between Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I would like to note that the alliance with the US is the first, most fundamental and most important of all of our relationships,” he added. “Thus it has been, and thus it will continue.”
Israel has been nervous about what actions Obama might take regarding the two-state solution prior to his departure from office. Among the possible steps would be US support for a UN Security Council resolution condemning settlement activity, or one that dictates the terms of a peace deal.