French Foreign Minister to Haaretz: Paris Mideast Peace Summit Must Bring Guarantees, Not Just Declarations

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French Foreign Affairs minister Jean-Marc Ayrault during an EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg on April 18, 2016.
French Foreign Affairs minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in Luxembourg on April 18, 2016.Credit: John Thys / AFP

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault elaborated on the French positions on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on Thursday, saying that violence between the sides and the settlements were the two immediate obstacles to continued talks.

In an interview on Thursday with Haaretz and other international journalists, Ayrault spoke about the French peace initiative, which is to be the focus of a summit meeting of foreign ministers in Paris on May 30. He attributed great importance to active Russian participation in the conference, and said that in his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the topic of the freeze in the talks between Israel and the Palestinians has been raised as a focal point of the danger of a broader flare-up in the Middle East.

What is the goal of the conference in Paris?

The goal is clear, he says. “To build a collective commitment of the international community in preparation for paving a diplomatic horizon for peace. It is in everyone’s interest. The guiding principle is also clear and recognized: The two-state solution. I want to return to the guiding principles of this solution, because there is a tendency not to mention them. We are talking about the State of Israel and the state of Palestine living side by side in peace and security, with secure and recognized borders on the basis of the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem their shared capital.”

This is not acceptable to Israel.

“I did not say it would be easy. The parties are now far apart, maybe more than ever. We have on one side, in Israel, a government that shows more and more ambivalence to the two-state plan... and on the other side the Palestinians, who are not only divided [on this question], but also must address growing anger from their public. And we also have the situation itself — there is no need to mention there have already been two conflicts in six years. Is there an alternative to the plan we are proposing? The only other option is a fatalistic acceptance of conflict. I reject that approach.”

In his first response to the French initiative on February 16, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “strange.” Will his response be any different when he receives an invitation to the conference?

“Just today I read the position paper of the association of Palestinian NGOs for peace, which called our initiative ‘almost ridiculous’ because in their opinion it is ‘sentenced to failure in advance.’ We know there is a very narrow opening for this initiative, and it is clear we could also have ignored this opportunity. But all our partners agree there is a clear and present danger to a renewed flare-up of violence. Over 20 countries understood this and confirmed their intention to participate in the conference. We are working in full transparency with the Israelis and Palestinians on our intentions, and I will clarify them again when I come to the region soon. We are working closely with Egypt, which completely supports the initiative, with the Saudis, with the Jordanians, with the members of the Arab League who support the initiative. All the member countries of the [European] Union are concerned. Everywhere I have gone in recent weeks, from Russia to Japan, I passed on this message. And of course I spoke about this a lot with John Kerry. The American presence at the conference is crucial. The Americans invested great energy in restarting the talks — they can see the conference as renewed appreciation of their actions.”

Will John Kerry come to the conference?

“I still don’t know. The Americans are invited of course; it is impossible to hold the conference without them, and everyone wants their active participation.”

Is the threat that France will recognize a Palestinian state if Israel does not cooperate with the initiative still in effect?

“To speak now about what France will do or not do in the case of failure would not be productive. In the case of failure, France will act according to its responsibility. But today I do not want to speak about failure, otherwise there would not be any reason to try — there would not be any reason to meet with you.”

Is the report correct that in the case of an Israeli refusal, the United States would avoid casting a veto this time if France presents a resolution to the UN Security Council based on the general principles of the initiative?

“I can’t answer you. It depends on which resolution. We must see, I need to speak with John Kerry on the matter. Every time we speak, we see how complicated the situation is.”

How can such a conference reduce the distance between the two parties?

“As for the European Union, the EU and its member states will discuss, for example, the special partnership with Israel and with the Palestinians in case they do sign a peace agreement. This is cooperation that was agreed upon in 2013 and it is the most generous the EU has ever offered countries that are not members. It is not just political cooperation, but also scientific, economic, cultural. We of course will work on the details, among other things, regarding access to the European Union market. I want to remind you that a third of the foreign trade of Israel is conducted with Europe. We will also discuss the Arab peace initiative, a plan that has been on the table since 2002, that is courageous and sensible. And of course, the Europeans and Americans will discuss the ways in which they can bring security guarantees to carry out the agreement, because it is clear the security issue is one of the key questions, maybe the biggest question. We will need to bring guarantees, not just declarations.”

How much does France see the conflict as a matter linked to its own internal policies, for example towards the French Muslim population?

“Our goal is not to let despair take hold of the population at the heart of the conflict, because this will lead to extremism. It is true there and it is also true for our communities, mostly among young people. We definitely feel tension in France too, and it is clear I want to reduce all communal tensions. So this initiative is important and its timing is important.”

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