Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacked the French peace initiative on Sunday morning when he told his cabinet ministers during their weekly meeting in Jerusalem that it gave the Palestinians an opportunity to evade direct negotiations.
“Any other process [like the French initiative] just pushes peace farther away and gives the Palestinians an escape hatch to avoid confronting the root of the conflict, which is the recognition of the state of Israel [as Jewish state],” Netanyahu said.
“They are avoiding talking with us, because they do not want to deal with this,” he said.
Netanyahu added that Israel’s historical experience is that direct talks do lead to peace, such as what occurred with Egypt and Jordan.
Netanyahu spoke following a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean Marc Ayrault who arrived in Israel on Saturday night for a short trip to brief Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the new peace initiative his country is launching at the end of this month.
Ayrault spoke with Netanyahu about the preparations for the ministerial meeting in Paris to be held on May 30, to which 20 countries have been invited. Israeli and Palestinian leaders were not asked to attend.
The one-day event will mark the formal start of preparations for a larger French-led international peace conference that would be held in the fall.
The process does not exclude direct talks nor is it an attempt to pre-determine the result of those talks, Ayrault explained to Netanyahu during their conversation in Jerusalem.
The absence of direct talks is problematic, Ayrault said.
The French initiative is an attempt to create the conditions for the resumption of those talks, by, among other things, asking the international community to recommit to helping bring about a two-state solution, Ayrault said.
Ayrault also condemned the wave of Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis that claimed 34 lives over the last eight months.
The last peace process, which involved nine months of US-brokered direct talks, broke down in April 2014. The Palestinians have insisted that they will not return to the table until Israel agrees to a withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines and halts settlement activity including Jewish building in east Jerusalem.
Israel has repeatedly called for such talks to resume immediately without any preconditions, a move which the Palestinians have rejected. They also rejected calls by Netanyahu to expand their recognition of Israel to include any affirmation that Israel is a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people.
Israel in turn has rejected the Palestinian call to accept a two-state solution at the pre-1967 lines. The Palestinians, have therefore, preferred to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through internationalized efforts such as the French-led initiative or the United Nations that recognizes a two-state solution at the pre-1967 lines with minor equitable land swaps.
The United States, which has brokered all past peace processes, has yet to accept France’s invitation to attend the May 30th meeting, nor has it stated its opinion on the initiative.
Ayrault headed to Ramallah to meet with Abbas after his discussion with Netanyahu. He will then fly from Israel to China, before returning to Paris.