Netanyahu Talks to Hollande About French Peace Conference Initiative Ahead of Envoy's Visit

Pierre Vimont is due to arrive in Israel on Sunday to hold talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials about France's initiative.

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

On the eve of a visit by France's special peace envoy, Pierre Vimont, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with French President Francois Hollande on Saturday about France's initiative for an international peace conference in Paris next summer.

An Israeli source said Netanyahu asked Hollande several questions about the French initiative, which is intended to jumpstart the Israeli Palestinian peace process. Netanyahu also reiterated Israel's position that the negotiations with the Palestinians must be resumed directly and without preconditions.

Pierre Vimont and his wife attend the Bloomberg Vanity Fair White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) dinner afterparty in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 1, 2010.
Bloomberg

Vimont is due to arrive in Israel on Sunday for a two-day visit to discuss the summit with officials in Jerusalem and Ramallah. On Monday, he is scheduled to meet Foreign Ministry director general Dore Gold, acting National Security Advisor Yaakov Nagel and Netanyahu's envoy Isaac Molho. It is unclear if he will meet with Netanyahu himself or not.

In the past month France has been holding talks with Israel, the Palestinians and several other states about their peace initiative. The move was launched by former French foreign minister Laurent Fabius two weeks before leaving his office. Nonetheless, Israeli officials said senior French officials made it clear Hollande backed the initiative and his new foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault will continue to promote it.

Ayrault visited Cairo a few days ago and met a number of Arab League foreign ministers there to discuss the French initiative. The Arab League's foreign ministers issued a statement supporting the move on Friday, but said that any international peace conference must include outline principles for holding the negotiations and a binding time table for completing them.

A senior Israeli official noted that during Netanyahu's phone conversation with Hollande on Friday, Netanyahu requested that the French government will work with the French satellite provider Eutelsat to cease airing broadcasts of the Hamas-affiliated "Al-Aqsa" television station. Israel approached Eutelsat over the last few weeks, insisting that the broadcasts be halted on grounds that they include calls of incitement to violence against Israelis, said the source.

According to the source, on Saturday, Israel's ambassador in Paris, Aliza Bin-Noun informed the prime minister's office of the company's agreement to end the "Al-Aqsa" broadcasts. "The prime minister thanks the French president for his help in preventing incitement against Israelis and Jews," the official said.

However, despite Netanyahu's request and despite the fact that the French company stopped the broadcasts of Hamas' "Al-Aqsa," the station was already back on air Saturday, through another satellite provider that works in cooperation with Eutelsat.

The European Union considers Hamas a terrorist organization, and the EU boycotts any organization that does not recognize Israel, does not denounce terror and refuses to recognize past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). In June 2010, France's broadcast regulator had ordered Eutelsat to cut the "Al-Aqsa" channel's broadcast, saying the Gaza-based channel was in breach of EU law by broadcasting racism and incitement.

The station's website published an announcement Saturday claiming that the broadcasts had been moved to new frequencies via the Egyptian satellite company Nilesat and Arabsat, located in Saudi Arabia.