French Envoy: Netanyahu's Presence at Paris Summit Would Signal Commitment to Peace

Speaking in Tel Aviv, Pierre Vimont said conditions are not ripe for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians but an international conference in Paris could pave the way for such talks.

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Prime Minister on his way to cabinet meeting, Nov. 6, 2016
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his way to a meeting of his cabinet, November 6, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman

The French envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Pierre Vimont, said on Sunday that his country is still determined to promote its plan to convene an international peace conference in Paris by the end of the year.

Vimont noted that Israel's participation in such a conference would demonstrate its commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. He added that immediately following the November 8 elections in the United States, he would go to Washington to coordinate possible steps over the next two months with the outgoing administration of President Barack Obama.

"The purpose of the initiative is about giving new momentum and recommitting to a two-state solution," he told a conference of the Macro Center for Political Economics and the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. "The reality is that the two-state solution is slowly going away. For France, this is the most worrisome thingthat without saying so and with total silence, the two-state solution will go away with nothing to replace it."

Vimont said that a continuation of the status quo meant the end of the two-state solution. "We want the two-state solution to stay alive and kicking, and by that, we are going against the status quo."

The French envoy's visit to Israel is his first since a foreign ministers' meeting at the beginning of June in Paris that was convened as part of the French peace initiative. Vimont had wanted on several occasions over the past several months to come to Israel, but the visit was repeatedly deferred by the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Foreign Minister claiming that there were scheduling conflicts.

Since the June foreign ministers' meeting, Vimont has held a series of coordinating meetings with the Americans, the Russians, and representatives of Arab countries.  In addition, he has led several meetings of working groups attended by representatives of a number of countries dealing with developing a package of economic incentives for Israel and the Palestinians in connection with the international peace conference.

The Israeli approach to the French initiative has been and remains highly negative. Vimont will meet on Monday with senior officials from the Prime Minister's Office and the Israeli Foreign Ministry to brief them on French plans regarding an international conference. The French envoy noted that he is realistic regarding the issue of Israeli participation in the conference if it takes place. But he said, if Prime Minister Netanyahu would agree to attend the Paris conference, it would demonstrate his intentions regarding the peace process. "If at the end of the day, the Israeli government would decide to participate in the Paris conference, it will show genuine, sincere commitment to the two-state solution."

Vimont also said the initiative that his country is promoting would not undermine direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which have not taken place in any event for several years. The envoy noted that France does not believe that direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians were possible at the present time or even that they could produce positive results. It is the French initiative, he said, that might create conditions that could make a resumption of direct talks possible in the future, however. "We are in no way trying to impose a solution on the two sides. It is about getting the international community involved again in the peace process," Vimont said.

Vimont said that in the coming weeks, France wanted to understand from senior U.S. administration officials whether President Obama was interested in advancing steps in the United Nations Security Council on the Israeli-Palestinian issue prior to the end of the president's term on January 20. A summary statement or conclusions coming out of an international conference in Paris could be the basis of a UN Security Council resolution, the French envoy said.

At the opening of Sunday's Israeli cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israel hopes that Obama will not advance such a Security Council resolution. "I hope that the United States will remain committed to the principle that it has taken over many years that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved only through direct negotiations without preconditions, and of course also without resolutions from the United Nations or other international institutions," the prime minster said.

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