French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault made a short visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank on Sunday to present the foundations of a proposed multilateral peace initiative between the two sides, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ayrault sparred verbally over France’s impartiality on the conflict.
Calling the ongoing tensions between Israel and Palestine “untenable and dangerous,” Ayrault revealed the premises for the peace initiative, which will reportedly aim for the establishment of a future Palestinian state along 1967 borders and a shared capital of Jerusalem.
Members of the Middle East Quartet -- the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States -- as well as members of the Arab League and other nations are set to work together starting in late May or early June on a number of aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including economic development, security, and incitement, according to French newspaper Le Monde.
Israeli and Palestinian authorities would only be included in the peace process starting in the fall, according to Ayrault.
In a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said that he had brought up to Ayrault a UNESCO resolution in April regarding the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, which France vote in favor of. Netanyahu said the UN decision did not “recognize the Jewish People's ties -- which are thousands of years old -- to the Temple Mount,” the term used by Israel to refer to the area upon which Jews believe the First and Second Temple once stood.
Netanyahu said he told Ayrault that the "scandalous" French-supported UNESCO decision "casts a shadow on the fairness of any forum that France tries to convene."
“I told him that the only way to advance a true peace between us and the Palestinians is by means of direct negotiations between us and them, without preconditions,” Netanyahu added. “They (Palestinians) simply avoid negotiating with us as part of their desire to avoid resolving the root of the conflict, which is recognizing the national state of the Jewish People, the State of Israel.”
Ayrault rebuked Netanyahu’s implication of French bias against Israel, although he did not downplay his frustrations with the Israeli government’s stance.
France was intervening as a “disinterested” player in the peace process, Le Monde quoted Ayrault as saying, but France also "profoundly convinced that if we do not want the Islamic State’s ideas to prosper in this region, something must be done.”
In a barbed allusion to Netanyahu’s recurring affirmation that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was always welcome to meet with him, Ayrault said that words "weren't enough.”
“I know his (Netanyahu’s) stances,” Ayrault said. “He has one option, which is direct negotiations. I note that this option is blocked.”
Ayrault also warned that an upcoming report from the Middle East Quartet, which is expected to form a basis for the peace initiative, would likely not sit well with Netanyahu.
“I told Mr. Netanyahu: ‘Do not expect praises.’”
Later on Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hosted Ayrault in the central West Bank city of Ramallah.
Special envoy to the French peace summit Pierre Vimont was present as was as the consul general of France in Jerusalem, Herve Magro.
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeina said Abbas and his guests discussed the ongoing efforts by France to hold an international peace summit seeking to end "the stalemate in the Middle East peace process."
Abu Rdeina added that Arab and French efforts were heading quickly "in the right direction" to attempt to stop the instability and deteriorating situation in Palestine and the region.
The Palestinian Authority has expressed hope for the initiative, and in April shelved the submission of a new anti-settlement resolution to the UN out of fear that doing so could thwart progress of new French proposals.
Ayrault said the French leadership was working closely with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Arab League members, many of whom support the initiative. EU members, Russia, and Japan have also been included, Haaretz reported.
All past efforts towards peace negotiations have failed to end the decades-long Israeli military occupation or bring Palestinians closer to an independent contiguous state.
The most recent spate of negotiations led by the US collapsed in April 2014.
Israel claimed the process failed because the Palestinians refused to accept a US framework document outlining the way forward, while Palestinians pointed to Israel's ongoing settlement building and the government's refusal to release veteran prisoners.
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