France Presents Middle East Peace Initiative to Israel

French official presented three-step French peace initiative at Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. France has already begun informing world powers of the plan's details.

Hollande and Netanyahu at UN Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, November 30, 2015.
AP

France officially presented Israel with its initiative to convene an international peace summit in an attempt to restart the peace process. French and Israeli diplomats said that French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave met with the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Alon Ushpiz and presented him with the plan's details at 10 A.M. The French hope to convene a peace summit in Paris this summer.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nachson said that Ushpiz noted to the French ambassador during the meeting that Israel supports direct negotiations and opposes any attempt to predetermine the outcome of negotiations. "This principle, which has accompanied the peace process from the beginning, won the international community's support over the years and was the basis for peace negotiations with Jordan and Egypt," Nachson said.

"This is in contrast to the Palestinian approach, expressed [Monday] by Riyad al-Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister, during his visit to Japan, where he said that Palestinians won't conduct direct negotiations with Israel." According to Nachson, Ushpiz brought up recent Palestinian terrorism during his meeting with the French ambassador, as well as the incitement to hatred and violence that has fanned it, and pointed to the need to continue fighting it. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Germany backed the two-state solution, but added that "now is perhaps not the time for major steps" and the focus should be on improving the situation on the ground.

The French initiative to convene an international peace summit was presented on January 29 in a speech by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at the foreign ministry in Paris. Fabius also said that France will recognize the state of Palestine if the initiative fails.

Fabius has since resigned from office, replaced by Jean-Marc Ayrault. Despite the turnover, the idea of an international summit seems to remain part of the French government's policy, and the French foreign ministry continues to advance accordingly. France has appointed veteran diplomat Pierre Vimont as special envoy to the peace summit initiative.

French diplomats said that Tuesday morning's meeting is part of wider consultations France is holding concerning the initiative with several countries. According to them, the French foreign ministry has prompted more than 20 ambassadors around the world in recent days to present the plan's details to foreign ministries in Washington, London, Berlin, Moscow and other capitals in Europe and the Arab world.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault arrives to attend an EU foreign affairs council at the European Council, Feb. 15, 2016.
AFP

The French initiative has been presented to the Palestinians over the past several days. French diplomats said the Palestinian response was very positive. "We want to give the details to the Israelis, too, and see how they react," a French diplomat said.

Israeli diplomats said that preliminary talks between officials at the Israeli Embassy in Paris and French foreign ministry officials in the weeks since Fabius first presented the initiative. Israel has also learned of information concerning the initiative from other countries which France has introduced the details.

The French initiative is a three-step process:

1. Consultations with Israel, the Palestinians and other countries on the idea of a summit and its contents to occur in February-March.

2. Convening a meeting in Paris of the international support group in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, including several dozen countries that hope to restart the peace process. The French was to hold the meeting in March and April, without the presence of Israelis or Palestinians.

3. Convening of the international peace summit in Paris in June or July that will re-start negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

On Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that he supports the French initiative during a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abbas called for the convening of an international peace summit and the establishment of an international mechanism for ending the Israeli occupation in accordance with a defined timetable.

Abbas also expressed support for an international support group for the peace process, to include the permanent members of the UN Security Council - the U.S., Russia, China, France and the U.K. - as well as several Arab, European and Asian countries, such as Japan. Abbas added that the Palestinians are working in parallel with the Arab states to promote a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel has reservations about the French initiative, especially due to the former French foreign minister's threat to recognize Palestine as a state if the initiative fails. Israeli diplomats indicated that this threat turns the idea of the conference into an empty gesutre. According to them, the Palestinians are the ones who have declared in recent days that they are not interested in resuming direct negotiations with Israel.