France's special envoy for its peace conference initiative, veteran diplomat Pierre Vimont, will arrive in Israel Sunday as part of French attempts to hold an international peace conference in Paris during the summer aimed at restarting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the French Embassy in Israel announced Thursday.
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Vimont will arrive on Sunday March 13 and leave on Tuesday. The French Embassy said "the envoy will discuss with the parties the essential next stages and framework of the conference in order to enable the establishment, by the summer, of an international conference which will assemble the sides and their main partners."
Senior Israeli officials said Vimont is an experienced diplomat who is well-respected both in Jerusalem and Ramallah, as well as in capitals all over the world. Vimont previously served as the secretary general of the European Union's foreign service. "He is a very serious person who knows the Israeli-Palestinian matter very well," said a senior Israeli official. "He is the type of person who when he is told to organize a conference, they will supply the goods and organize a conference."
The French have held contacts with Israel, the Palestinians and a number of other countries over the past month in order to present them with the French peace conference initiative.
Before the opening of a peace conference in Paris in the summer, the French are interested in holding a meeting in Paris in April of the "international support group" for the peace process. Some 25 to 30 nations that are interested in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process are to be invited, without the participation of the two sides themselves.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault arrived in Cairo Wednesday, where he met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and the secretary general of the Arab League Nabil Elaraby to discuss the French initiative, and the possibility of gathering the "international support group" in Paris in April.
Egypt and Jordan support the French plan, as do a number of other European countries such as Spain and Italy, said a senior Israeli official. Germany and Britain have so far not expressed opposition to the French initiative, along with the United States.
Former French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was the moving force behind the initiative, and announced it two weeks before he left the post a month ago. Israeli officials said senior French officials made it clear to them that French President François Hollande fully supports the initiative and Ayrault will continue to promote it.
Nonetheless, Ayrault has retreated from some of his predecessor's statements, and on Wednesday he clarified that if the French initiative for an international conference and the restarting of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians does fail, France will not automatically recognize a Palestinian state.
"There is never anything automatic," he said. "We shouldn't exclude anything, but I don't want to put this [recognition] as a pre-requisite. Otherwise we are going to block everyone," said Ayrault.
France presented Israel with the peace imitative for the first time on February 16. French ambassador to Israel Patrick Maisonnave met at the time with a senior official in Israel's Foreign Ministry, deputy director general for diplomacy Alon Ushpiz, and presented the main principles of the plan to him.
Israel is not pleased with the French plan and Ushpiz told Maisonnave so at their meeting. Ushpiz said Israel supports direct negotiations with the Palestinians, but objects to determine attempt to set the results of the negotiations in advance.