Netanyahu to French FM: Paris initiative could harm regional peace efforts
“Only the sides can make peace, but we can help them,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
By HERB KEINON, TOVAH LAZAROFFUpdated: JUNE 5, 2016 11:33
The launch Friday of the Paris- led international peace initiative imperils regional efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Friday.“This initiative could harm regional efforts that have the potential to succeed,” Netanyahu told Ayrault, according to an Israeli source.Netanyahu also spoke against the news that a working group had been created to deal with Israel’s vital interests, chief among them security.“The State of Israel, and no one else, is the one that worries about its own security,” Netanyahu said.Ayrault called Netanyahu Friday evening to update him on the one-day Paris summit on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that ended that afternoon after a meeting with delegates from 29 countries and international organizations including the United Nations and the Quartet.It ended with a brief statement acknowledging that both “acts of violence” and settlement activity are endangering a two-state solution.The participants issued a joint rather bland communique reaffirming their “support for a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were invited to the meeting.In their phone conversation following the meeting, Netanyahu reiterated comments he made early last week in Jerusalem when he told Ayrault to turn Paris into a staging ground for direct Israeli-Palestinian talks rather than pushing for an internationalized initiative about such negotiations.There is no alternative to direct talks without preconditions, Netanyahu said, adding anything else would only distance the possibility of ending the conflict.In Washington, Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Friday the meeting was a good opportunity for the international community to reaffirm its commitment to achieving a twostate solution.“I don’t know that there’s any follow-up role that we immediately see for ourselves,” Toner said.“I think there was a good discussion about what makes sense in the current period of time that we find ourselves in and how to create the kind of conditions that we believe can lead to a meaningful – a rather meaningful progress,” Toner said.But what was really needed, he said, was for the Netanyahu and [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas to show leadership, and for the two parties to make progress.“We’re going to continue to work with both sides as well as key international stakeholders to try to get there,” he said.The joint statement released after the meeting stated that 29 delegates “reaffirmed that a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to achieve an enduring peace, with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. They are alarmed that actions on the ground, in particular continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity, are dangerously imperiling the prospects for a two-state solution.”A brief document put out by the French on Thursday explaining the purpose of the summit said that the two-state solution was under increased threat, “particularly with regard to continued settlement activities.”That document made no mention of Palestinian terrorism.The final statement emphasized that the status quo is not sustainable, and “stressed the importance of both sides demonstrating, with policies and actions, a genuine commitment to the two-state solution in order to rebuild trust and create the conditions for fully ending the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and resolving all permanent-status issues through direct negotiations based on Resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), and also recalling relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions and highlighting the importance of the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative.”Israel had worked intensively behind the scenes to water down the language of the final statement.Former US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Martin Indyk said it was the US, not Israel, which succeeded in toning down the language of the Paris document.“[US Secretary of State John] Kerry saved Israel’s backside in Paris. Perhaps someone in Israel’s gov[ernment] should thank him rather than claiming credit,” Indyk tweeted.In addition to working with the US, Israeli diplomats have been active in some 23 capitals since February trying to convince world leaders of the dangers of an “extreme” final statement.The communique referenced the prospect of convening an international peace conference by the end of the year.According to the statement, the participants discussed ways the international community could help advance peace prospects, “including by providing meaningful incentives to the parties to make peace.”The communique also highlighted the “potential for regional peace and security as envisioned by the Arab Peace Initiative.”At a press conference following the meeting, Ayrault said that the participants agreed that in the absence of negotiations it is important to rebuild the confidence between the two sides.“Only the sides can make peace, but we can help them,” he said. “We do not want to replace the sides or impose solutions on them.”But, he said, “We cannot simply stand to the side and do nothing. Everyone understands the ramifications of the logjam for the citizens, the region and the world.”Although the concluding communique made no reference to deadlines for negotiations, the French foreign minister said there was a need for a defined time framework, and that many of the participants mentioned this during the meeting.“We all agree that a twostate solution is the only viable option for a sustainable peace,” he told the forum. “Yet we all can see that the two-state solution is at great risk.”UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said from Paris that “Israel and Palestine must pull back from the brink by undertaking serious efforts to create the conditions which will enable a return to meaningful negotiations.”While the secretary-general condemned “terror, violence and the incitement that fuel them,” he also cited “the ongoing settlement enterprise” and the “lack of unity between Gaza and the West Bank” as obstacles to peace.“Settlement activity is illegal under international law, and Israel must cease its policy of expanding settlements, legalizing outposts and demolishing Palestinian structures,” he stated.“These actions raise legitimate questions about its commitment to the twostate solution and to its obligations as the occupying power.”PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat called the Paris meeting a “very significant step and its message is clear: If Israel is allowed to continue its colonization and apartheid policies in occupied Palestine, the future will be for more extremism and bloodshed rather than for coexistence and peace.”“What is required is a genuine mechanism to fully end the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and to solve all final-status issues based on international law; including a clear and limited time frame for its implementation,” Erekat said.The foreign ministers of Russia, Germany, Britain and Japan did not attend the parley, and their absence was interpreted in Jerusalem as an indication that they themselves did not deem it that important.Foreign Ministry director- general Dore Gold told The Jerusalem Post that “despite the fact that the final statement has been considerably diluted through a number of diplomatic efforts, the whole effort to have a conference without the parties in Paris is a distraction from what should be the main effort, and that is to persuade Abu Mazen [Abbas] to sit down with Israel.”The Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that the Paris summit was a “missed opportunity.”The statement said that instead of urging Abbas to “answer the prime minister’s repeated calls to immediately begin direct negotiations without preconditions,” the international community is enabling him to continue avoiding negotiations.“In the annals of history, the Paris conference will go down as only having hardened Palestinian positions and made peace more distant,” the statement said.Despite the watered-down final communique, with no reference to follow-up working groups, mention of this was made in remarks before the meeting by French President Francois Hollande and Ayrault.Now that the Paris meeting is over, the next major diplomatic development will be the Mideast Quartet’s release of its report on the reasons for the current diplomatic stalemate, and what needed to be done to break it. That report is expected by the end of the month.In the last few weeks, including a very public call last Wednesday from the Knesset, Netanyahu has urged moderate Arab nations to come together for a regional peace process based on a revised version of the 2002 Saudi initiative.Danielle Ziri contributed to this report.