France plans to convene a meeting of international powers at the end of May to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, seeking to head off an escalation in tensions that resonate across the Middle East and Europe.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he is inviting foreign ministers from Europe, the U.S., the Middle East and Asia to Paris on May 30 to lay the groundwork for a new round of peace talks.
The goal is for major world powers to forge a common strategy for the negotiations without the presence of either Israeli or Palestinian officials, Mr. Ayrault said.
If the ministers make progress, Mr. Ayrault said he would host an international conference later this year that would include the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, at which talks would begin in earnest.
France’s attempt to restart the talks highlights mounting fears that a steady spate of attacks and killings by Palestinians and Israeli security forces could erupt into another full-scale conflict between the two sides in the coming months.
“The current situation is explosive,” Mr. Ayrault said. “There is urgency to act.”
Israeli officials had no immediate reaction, but they have sharply opposed an international peace conference, arguing that direct negotiations between the two sides are required to advance a peace agreement. A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority couldn’t be reached for comment.
Mr. Ayrault said the only solution to the long conflict remains a deal that would allow Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully side-by-side. But continued violence and Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories could deal a fatal blow to the peace process, he said.
“The possibility of two states, the only possible solution, is under threat,” Mr. Ayrault said. “It’s threatened by settlements, but also the absence of the prospect of negotiations.”
Prospects for the resumption of peace talks appear dim against the backdrop of a steady drumbeat of attacks. Palestinians have committed more than 300 stabbings, shootings and vehicle rammings since September, although the violence has subsided recently. Israeli security forces have killed more than 200 Palestinians in that period. Israel’s foreign ministry said at least 30 Israelis have died.
The last major conflict between the two sides came in 2014, when Israel fought a 50-day war in the Gaza Strip against Hamas, the militant group that controls the territory. The conflict, which left more than 2,000 Palestinians and several dozen
Israeli soldiers dead, prompted protests across the Middle East and a surge of anti-Semitic acts in Europe by Muslims against Jews.
“This conflict, it shouldn’t be underestimated, feeds tensions in the region,” Mr. Ayrault said.
French officials say governments at the May conference would aim to draw up a list of incentives for the parties as part of a possible deal. These could include the European Union giving special trade and economic concessions to Israel and the Palestinians, and Arab governments agreeing to recognize Israel in exchange for Israel withdrawing from territory it has occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967.
Laurent Fabius, the previous French foreign minister, first proposed the new peace initiative before he left office earlier this year. Mr. Fabius said France would give full diplomatic recognition to the Palestinian government if the talks failed.
Mr. Ayrault on Thursday wouldn’t commit to that step, which Israel strongly opposes. “In the case of failure,” Mr. Ayrault said, “France will do its job.”
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