France's president said Tuesday that a preliminary meeting of foreign ministers ahead of a Middle East conference aimed at reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is being delayed to allow U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to attend.
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The meeting was initially scheduled to take place in Paris on May 30, but Kerry could not come on that date, Francois Hollande told Europe 1 radio. Hollande did not provide a new date, but did suggest the meeting would take place before the fall.
"We are going to create, with all actors and neighboring countries, the parameters which will allow Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table," he said.
Paris plans to host a ministerial meeting of 20 countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, as a first step to discussing the peace process.
Israel and the Palestinians have not been invited to the French-sponsored foreign ministers meeting.
Citing a senior Israeli official, Haaretz reported on Sunday that French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his country was willing to postpone the meeting of foreign ministers so that Kerry would be able to attend.
After a meeting with Netanyahu, Ayrault said at a press conference that France would continue to promote the international Middle East peace summit despite the Israeli premier's objections, adding that the conference is in line with Israel's interests.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Tuesday declared his support for the French proposal to hold a Mideast peace conference later this year.
He called on Israel and the Palestinians to seize what he described as a "realistic" and "great" opportunity to reach a peaceful settlement to their decades-old conflict.
The Egyptian president said that Israelis and Palestinians need look no further than the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty to see the positive outcome of peacemaking.
The amount of animosity between Egypt and Israel that had existed prior to the conclusion of the landmark accord was no different from how the Palestinians and Israelis feel today, Sissi said.
Egypt, he added, was prepared to "make every effort" to contribute to an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zohari said that the delay "is yet more proof of the failure of the negotiating process and the policies of Mahmoud Abbas."
PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said that the delay was merely technical to enable the participation of Kerry and the meeting would go ahead.