Last updated: 28 April, 2016

Israel renews opposition to French peace initiative

Israel on Thursday reiterated its opposition to a planned French peace conference, calling instead for direct and unconditional negotiations with the Palestinians.

“The best way to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is direct, bilateral negotiations,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

“Israel is ready to begin them immediately without preconditions. Any other diplomatic initiative distances the Palestinians from direct negotiations.”

The statement comes after French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced Paris would organise a ministerial meeting on May 30, ahead of a potential peace conference.

The proposal has been welcomed by the Palestinians, who suspended a planned UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements to focus on the bid.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas encouraged support for the French proposal on a recent tour of Europe.

Senior Palestinian leader Saeb Erekat condemned the Israeli statement on Thursday.

“The Israeli government’s call for ‘bilateral negotiations’ is not a call for the achievement of the two-state solution, but an attempt at legitimising its settlement enterprise,” he said.

“We call upon the French government and the rest of the international community to take immediate steps in order to give peace a chance.”

But Israel has consistently argued that peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the two sides, rather than international forums.

The last serious attempt at peace negotiations broke down two years ago.

The May 30 meeting will include representatives from 20 countries, plus the European Union and the United Nations, but not the Israelis or Palestinians.

Paris is currently preparing invitations for the event, diplomatic sources said.

If successful, the meeting would lead to an international conference later this year in the presence of both Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

Israel has not explicitly ruled out involvement in the conference.

The French attempt comes at a time of polarisation and high tensions in Israel and the Palestinian territories, with 203 Palestinians and 28 Israelis killed since October 1.

Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, Israeli authorities say.

Peace talks have been frozen since a US-brokered initiative collapsed in April 2014, after a year of intense shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Both sides blamed the other for the talks’ failure.