Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged his French counterpart to ditch the idea of a regional peace conference in Paris and, instead, to set up a bipartite meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
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At the start of his meeting with Manuel Valls in Jerusalem on Monday, Netanyahu reiterated his view that direct talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders would be more effective than a regional conference with many participants.
Valls arrived in to Israel on Sunday and is also scheduled to meet with Abbas in Ramallah.
The French peace initiative will be one of the main topics discussed during the visit.
“Direct negotiations are the only way to achieve peace,” Netanyahu said. “We will not achieve it through a UN-style international conference, or diktats from the international community regarding our security. Peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations, in which the Palestinians have to decide whether they recognize the State of Israel or continue to hope that it will vanish. We want two states for two peoples and a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state."
Netanyahu told Valls that the current French initiative does not give the Palestinians reason to renew the negotiations with Israel – it gives them a route to evade negotiations.
“Don’t let the Palestinians run away from deciding,” Netanyahu said. “If you want to advance peace, help us open direct negotiations with Abbas. There is another initiative that could take place in Paris that could be called a French initiative. The difference would be that I sit alone, directly, with President Abbas in Paris."
Netanyahu said he would be prepared to discuss all the issues, and cited borders, mutual recognition, incitement, refugees and the settlements. He did not cite Jerusalem.
“I hope you encourage President Abbas to accept that French initiative,” Netanyahu said. “I am prepared to clear my schedule and fly to Paris this very week. The offer is open. I hope you pick up the gauntlet and that the Palestinians pick up the gauntlet."
Valls said he would forward the idea to French President Francois Hollande and said that anything that could contribute to direct negotiations would be supported. He added that comes to Jerusalem as a friend of Israel, and as someone who cares about Israeli security. France wants to advance the peace process and is prepared to give Netanyahu the clarification he wants about the French peace initiative.
On June 3, a meeting of foreign ministers from more than 20 countries will be held in Paris, at France’s initiative, to discuss the moribund peace process. That will be a precursor to the international peace conference that Paris is planning before the year-end.
U.S. Foreign Secretary John Kerry said last week that he intends to be there. Israeli and Palestinian representatives won’t be. Israel categorically opposes the conference and in fact the entire French initiative.