Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the French initiative to convene an international peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian issue "puzzling" in light of a threat by France to recognize Palestinian statehood if the conference initiative fails.
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"This ensures in advance that the conference will fail," Netanyahu said at a press conference in Berlin on Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"There is only one way to advance peace: direct negotiations without precondition between the parties. Anyone who strays from this will not advance successful negotiations," he said.
Merkel voiced her country's commitment to the two-state solution, but said that "now might not be the time for big steps."
The Israeli prime minister was speaking a matter of hours after France's ambassador in Israel, Patrick Maisonnave, officially presented Israel with its plans for the peace conference through which Paris hopes to jumpstart the peace process. Maisonneuve presented the plan at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem Tuesday morning at a meeting with the ministry's political director, Alon Ushpiz. The French ambassador presented the details of the plan for the convening a peace conference in Paris this summer.
The idea for such a conference was broached by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in a speech at the French Foreign Ministry on January 29. Fabius stated that if the initiative fails, France would recognize Palestinian statehood.
Last week, Fabius resigned as foreign minister and was replaced by foreign Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. Despite the changeover, it appears that at this stage the idea of a peace conference remains French government policy. The French Foreign Ministry is continuing to promote it and has appointed veteran diplomat Pierre Vimont as a special envoy on the matter of the peace conference.
Israeli diplomats have noted that in recent weeks, since Fabius initially presented the concept of the conference, there have been preliminary, unofficial talks between diplomats at the Israeli embassy in Paris and officials at the French Foreign Ministry. In addition, information about the initiative has reach Israel via other countries to which the French have provided details.
The initiative features three proposed stages. In the first stage, there would be consultations in February and March with Israel and other countries as well as with the Palestinians regarding the convening of the conference and its content.
In a second phase, a meeting would be convened in Paris of an international support group for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, to include several dozen countries interested in jumpstarting the peace process. The French would like this meeting to take place during the period from March to April without the participation of Israel or the Palestinians.
In the third stage, in June or July, the formal international peace conference would convene, aimed at restarting peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
French diplomats have noted that the meeting Tuesday morning at the Israeli Foreign Ministry was part of a wide round of consultations with a number of countries that France has begun to hold on the initiative. Recently, they said, more than 20 French ambassadors around the world received instructions from the Foreign Ministry in Paris to present the details of the plan -- to the U.S. State Department and to foreign ministries in London, Berlin and Moscow as well as other capitals in Europe and the Arab world.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in the course of the meeting in Jerusalem with Ambassador Maisonneuve, that ministry official Ushpiz told the ambassador Israel supports direct negotiations with the Palestinians but opposes any attempt to predetermine the results of such talks. "This principle, which has accompanied the process from the beginning, has had the support of the international community over a period of years and was also the basis of peace negotiations with Jordan and Egypt," Nahshon said.
"This is contrary to the Palestinian approach expressed just yesterday by Riad Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, in the course of a visit in Japan, where he said the Palestinians would never conduct direct negotiations with Israel."
In the course of the meeting with the French ambassador to Israel, Ushpiz raised the continuing wave of Palestinian terrorism and incitement to hatred that fans it, and noted the obligation to constantly fight this, Nahshon said.
The French have already presented their initiative to the Palestinians. French diplomats noted that the Palestinian reaction was very positive and said France wished to present the details to the Israelis for their reaction.
At a press conference yesterday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said he supports the initiative. He called for the convening of the international conference and the establishment of an international mechanism to end the Israeli occupation in accordance with a defined timetable. Abbas also expressed support for the convening of the proposed international support group for the peace process, to include the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain – in addition to several Arab countries, European states and Asian nations such as Japan.
Abbas added that at the same time, Palestinians are working with Arab countries to advance a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank, as well as Israel's presence in East Jerusalem.