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Monday, 27 January 2020

Netanyahu rejects French initiative on Palestinian Israeli talks

Reuters , Sunday 31 Jan 2016
Netanyahu
File photo of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: Reuters)
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Sunday for a more "sober" approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in dismissing a French peace initiative as only encouraging Palestinians to shun compromise.

The proposal on Friday by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius for an international peace conference was the latest sign of Western frustration over the absence of movement toward a two-state solution since the collapse of US-brokered negotiations in 2014.

Fabius said that if the French plan did not break the deadlock, Paris would recognise a Palestinian state.

Such a step would raise concern in Israel that other European countries, also long opposed to its settlement-building in occupied territory, would follow suit.

In public remarks to his cabinet, Netanyahu did not explicitly reject the notion of an international conference - an aide said Israel would examine such a request once it was received - but he made clear that reported details of the plan made it a non-starter.

Netanyahu said a "threat" to recognise a Palestinian state if France's peace efforts did not succeed, constituted "an incentive to the Palestinians to come along and not compromise".

"I assess that there will be a sobering up regarding this matter," Netanyahu added. "In any event, we will make effort so that there is a sobering up here, and our position is very clear: We are prepared to enter direct negotiation without preconditions and without dictated terms."

On Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the French proposal, telling an African summit in Ethiopia that "the status quo cannot continue".

But Washington responded with caution to the French move, saying it continued to prefer that Israel and the Palestinians reach an agreement on final-status issues through direct talks.

US Secretary of State John Kerry called Abbas and the two discussed the French initiative and "the tense political situation in the region," WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency reported on Sunday.

While aware the initiative may struggle to get off the ground, French officials said Paris had a responsibility to act now in the face of Israeli illegal settlement activity and the prospect of continued diplomatic inaction as the United States focuses on a presidential election in November.

And, the officials said, Netanyahu had gone a step too far in accusing UN Secretary of State Ban Ki-moon of giving a "tailwind to terrorism" by laying some of the blame for four months of unrest at Israel's door. Ban angered Israel by saying last week that it is "human nature to react to occupation".

The United States, European Union - Israel's closest allies - have also issued unusually stern criticism of Israel in recent weeks, reflecting their own frustration with the policies of Netanyahu's right-wing government.

The criticism, particularly about the settlements, where some 550,000 Jews live in around 250 communities scattered across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, has raised Palestinian hopes that world powers might finally be minded to support a UN resolution condemning Israel's policy outright.

Israel's use of force against Palestinian protests since October 1 has killed 159 Palestinians,. On the Israeli side, 25 Israelis were killed, in addition to an American and an Eritrean.

Palestinians seek a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, parts of which have been occupied by Israel since 1967. Palestine has non-member observer status at the United Nations and its flag flies with those of member states at UN headquarters in New York.

Sweden became the first EU member nation to recognise the Palestinian state in 2014. A total of 136 UN-member countries, mostly in Africa, Latin America and Asia, now do so.

*The story was edited by Ahram Online.

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