Middle East

French FM meets Israeli, Palestinian leaders

Netanyahu says French Mideast initiative won’t contribute to prospects for viable peace settlement

French FM meets Israeli, Palestinian leaders French President Francois Hollande (L) welcomes Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Friday, April 15, 2016. ( Mustafa Yalçın - Anadolu Agency )

By Kaamil Ahmed


At a Sunday meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu questioned the "fairness" of a France-sponsored Mideast peace initiative.

Ayrault met with Netanyahu -- and later with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah -- to discuss preparations for a Paris-hosted peace conference scheduled for May 30 which is aimed at reviving the moribund Israel-Palestine peace process.

Israel has reacted coldly to the French initiative and has criticized French support for a recent UNESCO resolution on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which, Netanyahu has said, ignored the site's relevance to Jewish history.

"I told him [Ayrault] that the scandalous UNESCO decision, which was supported by France [and] that does not recognize the Jewish People's ties… to the Temple Mount [i.e., Al-Aqsa], casts a shadow on the fairness of any forum that France tries to convene," Netanyahu said after meeting the French FM.

Netanyahu added that Ayrault had described French support for the motion as a "misunderstanding".

The Israeli premier went on to assert that the Jewish state only supported direct negotiations with the Palestinians, adding that anything else would provide "an escape hatch to avoid confronting the root of the conflict, which is non-recognition of the State of Israel".

Later Sunday, Ayrault met with Abbas in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank to discuss preparations for the upcoming peace conference and the French FM’s earlier meeting with Netanyahu, according to a statement released by Abbas' office.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is also scheduled to visit the region next week to discuss the planned conference, for which a preliminary meeting of foreign ministers will be held later this month.

Israel-Palestine peace talks have been suspended since 2014.

When it first floated proposals for the peace conference earlier this year, Paris had initially threatened to recognize an independent state of Palestine if no progress was made towards a resolution of the decades-long conflict.

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