Palestinian Authority PM: Netanyahu buying time to avoid peace deal

Hamdallah told visiting French premier Manuel Valls that his government supported a new French initiative for an internationalized peace process.

French PM Valls meets Palestinian PM
Israel’s call for direct talks is simply an excuse to avoid an internationalized peace process that would force it to withdraw from the West Bank, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said in Ramallah on Tuesday as he met with his French counterpart Manuel Valls.
"When [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is talking about direct talks, negotiations and meeting the (Palestinian Authority) President he wants to buy more time," Hamdallah said.
Hamdallah dismissed a call by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday for the immediate resumption of direct talks in Paris via a French led process.
Instead, Hamdallah, welcomed the French initiative that calls for high level representatives of over 20 countries to come to a June 3 Paris meeting to set parameters for the eventual renewal of talks.
“After 22 years of negotiations we did not achieve anything from the Israelis and we do not want this time to let Netanyahu escape from the (hands of) the International community,” Hamdallah said.
While Israel has spoken frequently against Palestinian incitement, Hamdallah told the French that he was concerned by Israeli hatred.
“This Israeli government has drifted further towards extremism and racism,” the Palestinian leader said.
“Its leaders incite and spew hatred against our people while expropriating our land and natural resources, and expanding illegal settlements,” he said as he described for Valls the harm caused to his people by Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank, including continued settlement construction.
Hamdallah’s spokesman said that during the meeting with Valls, the French premier spoke against continued Israelis settlement activity which he said “weakens the prospect of the creation of a viable Palestinian state."
“Palestine can count on the support of France,” Valls said. “Today, we have strengthened our cooperation, which was already strong, and we sincerely hope that this cooperation continues to develop.”
Valls wrapped up a three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. He visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and pledged support for a wastewater management project in Hebron. He also lay a wreath at the grave of former PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.
Netanyahu has opposed the two-part French initiative, which he believes will simply dictate the outcome of the process and give the Palestinians an excuse to avoid direct talks on a two-state solution.
During his Monday meeting with Valls, Netanyahu urged his French counterpart to amend the initiative so that it instead becomes a platform for him and PA President Mahmoud Abbas to hold talks in Paris without preconditions.
“I'm ready to clear my schedule and fly to Paris tomorrow,” Netanyahu said, adding, “I will clear my calendar, and I hope that this is taken up by you and by the Palestinians.”
Valls said he would present Netanyahu’s proposal to French President Francois Hollande.
The Palestinians would like to see talks occur within internationally agreed upon parameters that set a timetable for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines and a halt to settlement activity, including Jewish building in east Jerusalem. They are hoping that the two-phase French initiative would support those principles.
Israelis and Palestinians are not invited to the June 3 parley. But they will be asked to attend a larger peace conference in the fall, which France hopes will jumps start Israeli-Palestinian negotiations which have been frozen since April 2014.
While in Ramallah, Valls spoke in support of his country's initiative.
"We know that peace will be made by the two sides and that nothing can be imposed on them. But at the same time, today, there are no negotiations and the situation on the ground is catastrophic. What's needed is to get out of this status quo and this impasse.
“This approach, which is ours, is underpinned by significant international support because everyone sees the difficulties," Valls  said.
The United States on Monday said it preferred to see the Israelis and Palestinians sit down together and talk, but that it did not believe such negotiations were possible at this time.
“If they are willing [to talk], then certainly we are not going to stand in their way,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.
But, he cautioned, “We believe that there’s got to be more groundwork laid before that process can go forward.
“We don’t want to see negotiations for the sake of negotiations. We want a clear path forward, and we need the – set the right climate or right environment for those negotiations to proceed,” he said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to attend the June 3 ministerial meeting.
“He wants to work with the French. He wants to work with other partners in the coming days to ensure that this is as productive and constructive a process as possible,” Toner said.
Reuters contributed to this report.