France Wants to Postpone Middle East Peace Conference, Palestinian Envoy Says

Paris however still seeks to convene the summit before Trump's inauguration, a Palestinian official says.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with French special envoy Pierre Vimont, in Ramallah on November 7, 2016.
Majdi Mohammed/AP

France wants to postpone an international peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict planned for December 21, the Palestinian ambassador to Paris, Salman El Herfi, told Voice of Palestine radio on Wednesday.

El Herfi said the French have asked to delay the talks until the start of January "to make better preparations" and provide more time to consult with prospective participants and the United States.

Palestinian sources said the French heard from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last weekend that he cannot participate if the talks are held on December 21, and that the talks were postponed to enable him to attend.

Asked by Reuters to comment on the situation, a spokesman for the French foreign ministry replied:

"As of now, France has never officially confirmed any date for this conference. We will do so once we have had the results of our talks with all the parties concerned."

A Palestinian source said there is no doubt the Americans are not enthusiastic about the talks, to put it mildly, and that they don’t plan to take any steps that could influence the next administration.

The French are continuing contacts with the Americans in the shadow of Israel’s outright rejection of the conference. The main goal is to try and convene it the first half of January before the Trump Administration takes office, which could put the conference in doubt.

Assessments in Ramallah are that the conference will be held in January but that it is doubtful it will bring about any substantive change in the U.S. position because all eyes are now on Trump and the status of the outgoing administration.

But the Palestinians feel it important to try to achieve an international statement about resolving the conflict ahead of Trump’s inauguration particularly regarding the main issues of borders and settlements.

The United Nations Security Council will also be a focus of attention including a plan to introduce a resolution there. Haaretz has learned that early next week an Arab initiatives committee will meet in Cairo to discuss such plans.

A Palestinian Authority delegation met in Washington with officials including Kerry about the French initiative and plans to seek a Security Council resolution calling for an end to settlement construction in occupied territory.

The Palestinians believe the outgoing administration has not yet decided its final position and it is unclear what position it would take in the Security Council before the end of its term on January 20.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told France's Francois Hollande a week ago he was ready to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but not as part of an international peace summit the French have planned.

"Israel will not take part in an international summit that will not contribute to achieving peace," Netanyahu told Hollande in a December 7 telephone conversation .