Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has held talks with the French to explore the idea of a peace conference in Paris this summer to start serious discussion on a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Former Middle East minister Ben Bradshaw (right) and Paul Monaghan of the SNP are among the MPs who have pressed him to consider supporting the initiative of the French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
Ben Bradshaw wrote to the Foreign Secretary and was told: “We are discussing with the French to explore their idea, which is still at an early stage…. We will continue to engage with the French as they develop their plans.”
Mr Hammond met the French special envoy for the initiative, Pierre Vimont, to discuss how the idea would work in practice.
MPs have an opportunity to urge Mr Hammond to give the UK’s full support to a Franco-British peace initiative at Foreign Office questions on Tuesday April 12th.
The French Foreign Minister hopes to call a gathering of supportive countries in Paris to lay the groundwork for a peace conference in the summer.
This is supported by the Palestinians, by the EU foreign affairs representative Federica Mogherini and by several European countries including the Spanish and Italians, but will have a far better chance of success with UK support.
The plan was first put forward by the outgoing French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, who also warned that – if this initiative fails – France will recognise Palestine.
His successor Jean-Marc Ayrault has said recognition will not follow “automatically” if Israel refuses to participate – in order to give the conference a better chance of success.
But if talks don’t take place, or break up, it is difficult to see what logical step remains other than a co-ordinated recognition of Palestine by the UK, France and other European countries such as Italy, Spain, Ireland and Belgium.
The state of Palestine is already recognised by 136 countries (out of 193), inclding ten in the EU, and a joint move by the UK, France and others would send a clear message without in any way changing the UK’s formal relationship with Israel, which it has recognised since 1950. It would also impose responsibilities on the Palestinians.
This is the time for British MPs of all parties to make the case to the Foreign Secretary.
President Obama has made it clear he will make no further moves on the Israel-Palestine in the remainder of his term – though he has hinted he might lift his veto on a Security Council resolution.
The EU Council of Ministers is unlikely to be able to agree an initiative between all 28 countries – there will always be an East European country voting against – so the responsibility falls to the major West European powers.
We all know why Germany will not take the lead, and France has already put forward an initiative, so it is now up to the UK to say whether it will join with the French. There is no longer any excuse for sitting on the fence.
It is important for the UK not only to back the conference this summer but also to support the French position that – if Israel does not engage realistically in the talks – there will be a concerted move to recognise Palestine before the end of the year.
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