Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced over the weekend that he accepts "in principle" the French initiative for an Israeli-Palestinian peace summit to be held Paris in September, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to respond officially to the invitation.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned Netanyahu at their meeting on Thursday that if the deadlock in negotiations continues, France will consider supporting the Palestinian request for full membership in the United Nations in September.
Apparently hoping to pressure to Netanyahu into accepting the French invitation, Juppe told the prime minister that unless progress is made on the diplomatic front by September, France would see all options as open.
According to the French initiative, negotiations between the sides would resume based on the principles outlined in the speech delivered by U.S. President Barack Obama last month: the 1967 borders would serve as the starting point with agreed upon land swaps, the Palestinians would recognize the Jewish state, and commitments would be made by both sides to avoid unilateral moves - in the case of the Palestinian, this would mean a bid for recognition in the United Nations, and in the case of Israel, it would mean construction in the settlements.
While Netanyahu was meeting with Juppe last week in Jerusalem, President Shimon Peres met in Rome with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for a lengthy discussion on the French initiative. They first met at a banquet hosted by the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano, and later held a second meeting, with Peres accompanied by his adviser, Avi Gil, and Abbas joined by the PA's former top negotiator, Saeb Erekat.
Netanyahu received advanced notice of the meeting, but the president's office refused to disclose any further details.
While Netanyahu has not yet issued an official response to the French initiative, he is known to have reservations about it.
An Israeli source who was briefed by the French on Netanyahu's meeting with Juppe told Haaretz that the prime minister "made faces when Juppe explained the initiative and eventually told him that he has several issues with it and would need to think about it."
In announcing his acceptance of the initiative, Abbas noted that the French peace plan is based on Obama's speech, which calls for establishing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. He also stressed that the commitment to refrain from unilateral moves would apply to both sides.
"Our first option is negotiations, our second option is negotiations, and our third option is negotiations," he said. "If all three fail, we'll go to the UN. There's no guarantee we'll succeed, but we'll make every effort. If the greater forces turn against us we'll go back to the Palestinian leadership and decide on our next moves."
Juppe is set to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington tomorrow to discuss the French initiative. He hinted to Netanyahu in their discussion that the Americans take a positive view of the French initiative and that he now hopes to secure from Clinton an official American endorsement of the plan.
Netanyahu, for his part, seems intent on undermining the French initiative and persuading the American administration to oppose it. The prime minister's office refused to elaborate on Netanyahu's position yesterday but did confirm that the prime minister is "consulting with the American administration on the matter."
Meanwhile, Abbas is continuing his efforts to forge a unity government with Hamas, making a particular effort to get Hamas to agree to the appointment of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as head of the transition government.
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