France will attempt to reanimate the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process by holding a meeting of foreign ministers in Paris at the end of May, to set the stage for a peace conference later in the summer.
The intervention by France comes following months of deeply pessimistic noises from Washington – which has long been the key mediator in the peace process – and most recently from Joe Biden, the vice-president, who voiced concerns last week. It also follows six months of worsening violence between the two sides. Previously the White House had said it saw no prospect of advancing negotiations during the remainder of Barack Obama’s term in office.
Invitations for the preparatory summit are expected to be sent out on Friday to foreign ministers from key states and organisations with an interest, but not to Israel or the Palestinian Authority in the first instance.
According to reports in the Israeli media, the French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, will visit Israel in mid-May to brief Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, on plans for the conference.
The initiative, outlined three days ago by Paris’s ambassador to the UN, François Delattre, gained Fresh momentum on Thursday following a French briefing to Netanyahu, who is reportedly deeply sceptical of the initiative.
Delattre told the UN security council that in view of the “wave of violence with increasing intensity that has persisted for six months and has led to hundreds of deaths and thousands of wounded”, hopes for a solution would recede unless “a credible political horizon to save the two-state solution” emerged.
Delattre continued: “Given the rift between the parties it would be illusory to think there would be an immediate resumption of negotiations. Our goal is therefore based on the priority of halting the negative spiral and taking the necessary decisions so as to safeguard the two-state solution, to recreate on that basis a positive political dynamic.
“As was announced by the president of the Republic in Cairo, France itself proposes to organise in Paris in early June a ministerial meeting, notably by gathering the members of the Quartet, the permanent members of the security council and the Arab League, as well as other regional and European stakeholders.”
Confirming a planned date of 30 May, a Palestinian official described the meeting as preparatory to an anticipated full conference later in the year.
While Palestinians are enthusiastic about the conference, Netanyahu is less so, telling reporters this week that he doesn’t understand the French initiative. “Can anyone explain what this initiative is about? Even the French don’t know,” he said.
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