French FM: Despite Netanyahu's Objection, Paris Peace Summit Will Convene

Ayrault says Kerry spoke positively of the French peace initiative, adds that France is willing to postpone the meeting, currently scheduled on May 30, so that the U.S. secretary of state can attend.

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Netanyahu shakes hands with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on May 15, 2016 during a meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu shakes hands with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on May 15, 2016 during a meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem.Credit: Reuters

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Sunday that France would continue to promote the international Middle East peace summit, which he says is in line with Israel's interests, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's objection.

"We aren't giving up, and neither are our partners," Ayrault at a press conference at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, at the close of his visit to Israel. "Netanyahu said he only wanted direct negotiations, but that option is stalled," he added. Earlier on Sunday Ayrault met with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The French foreign minister said that France was a supporter of Israel and that it protected Israel's interests in the negotiations with Iran. Promoting the peace process, he said, was in Israel's best interests, and warned that if nothing is done, the entire region would fall in the hands of ISIS. "Action must be taken," Ayrault said.

A senior Israeli official said that though the meeting between the two began in a positive atmosphere, it soon grew tense, with voices being partially raised. However, towards the end of the meeting tensions dissipated.

Ayrault said that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke positively of the French peace initiative, and added that France was willing to postpone the meeting of foreign ministers, currently scheduled for May 30, so that Kerry would be able to attend.

Ayrault said that he told Netanyahu that Israel has the right to peace and security alongside a Palestinian state.

The French foreign minister warned that Israel's security was being threatened by the absence of dialogue, the expansion of settlements and violence against the civilian population on both sides. He said that the rising frustration would lead to anger and that anger kills hope.

Ayrault stressed that hope must be renewed and that France wasn't alone in its effort to do so. He said that France has partners in the international community that want to rebuild trust between the sides. The foreign minister went on to say that while the status quo was tempting, it was dangerous, adding that action must be taken before it was too late.

Ayrault also noted that the members of the Middle East Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — will file their report on the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on May 25. Ayrault said that he informed Netanyahu that the report will not include "songs of praise" about the peace process.

As for the Middle East peace summit being organized by France for the end of the month, he said Paris was nearly ready to present a list of countries whose foreign ministers will attend the meeting.

He said that the preparations include drafting various position papers that will help determine the goals of the summit as well as reach a consensus regarding the situation on the ground. After the foreign ministers' meeting, working groups, each led by a different country attending the summit, will address one core issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ayrault said that the summit clearly won't replace direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, as he also mentioned in his talks with Netanyahu and Abbas, but added that there's a need to intervene. "The goal is to help return to negotiations," he said.

Ayrault admitted he was aware that Netanyahu objects to the convening of the peace summit, but said: "I know that there is strong opposition. This is not new and it won't discourage us. The conference will take place."