French FM Tried to Arrange Summit Between Netanyahu, Abbas

Senior Israeli official says Israeli prime minister agreed to last week's offer immediately, but Palestinian president has yet to respond.

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Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius during a meeting, at the Prime Ministers office in Jerusalem, Israel, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013.Credit: AP

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius tried last week to arrange a meeting in Paris between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in an effort to calm tensions over the Temple Mount.

A senior Israeli official said that Netanyahu agreed to the offer immediately, but Abbas has not responded to the French offer to this day.

The initiative for the summit between the two leaders was conceived during a meeting between Fabius and Israel's Minister of Interior Silvan Shalom last Thursday in Paris. A senior Israeli official said that Fabius presented to Shalom – who is in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians – the idea of a French-Israeli-Palestinian leaders' summit.   

"If I invite both of them to Paris, will they come?" asked Fabius, according to the senior Israeli official. Shalom replied carefully: "I can only speak for Netanyahu, and I think he would be happy to come," the minister of interior said. After hearing this, Fabius decided to push the idea forward.

A few hours after the meeting with Shalom, Fabius called the Palestinian president and made the offer. Meanwhile, Fabius' office asked the French embassy in Tel Aviv to confirm with the Prime Minister's Office that Shalom's answer does indeed reflect Netanyahu's position. Senior officials at the French embassy made several phone calls to their Israeli colleagues in Jerusalem, and were told that Netanyahu is willing to attend a meeting with Abbas in Paris with no preconditions.

The senior Israeli official said that the French foreign ministry contacted Abbas' office again over the weekend to see whether he has an answer regarding the Paris meeting with Netanyahu. The official said that the Palestinians promised to call back with an answer, yet as of Tuesday afternoon there was still no response.

"There are two options," said a senior Israeli official. "Either the Palestinians are sticking to their refusal once again and are unwilling to hold a summit between Abbas and Netanyahu, or they don't want to hold such a meeting under France's auspices." Another possibility is that the Palestinian president didn't want to meet Netanyahu before the outcomes of the American initiative to calm tensions over the Temple Mount become clear. Abbas met on Saturday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, yet is remains unclear whether he raised the invitation received from Fabius. The French initiative was also reported on Tuesday on Israeli Radio.   

A few weeks ago Haaretz revealed that former minister Meir Sheetrit met secretly with Abbas and tried to arrange a meeting between the Palestinian leader and Netanyahu. Sheetrit proposed the meeting be held at his private residence in Yavne, would be kept secret and would be defined as a private meeting rather than a negotiations meeting. Netanyahu agreed to the offer, yet Abbas did not respond.

A few days later, in a meeting he held in Paris with four former Israeli ambassadors to France, Abbas said that "a third party" prevented the meeting from taking place. That party was Secretary of State Kerry. Abbas had told Kerry on the phone about Sheetrit's offer. Kerry – who was concerned that the meeting will turn into a row that may end with Abbas threatening to dismantle the Palestinian Authority and hand over the keys to Israel – asked the Palestinian president not to hold the meeting and wait until after they meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.