France's Fabius heads to Mideast to sell peace initiative

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 19, 2015 12:32 PM

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - France's foreign minister heads to the Middle East this weekend with an initiative aimed at bringing Israel and the Palestinians back to peace talks under an international framework amid growing regional instability.

U.S.-led efforts to broker peace for a two-state solution collapsed in April 2014 and leaders on both sides have since been weakened politically. But with the region's crises worsening and Washington reassessing its options on U.S.-Israel relations, France sees a narrow window to resume negotiations.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will explore the prospects for talks with key Arab League ministers, including Saudi Arabia, in Cairo on Saturday and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Sunday.

"Everything points to inertia, but we believe that this inertia is deadly," said a senior French diplomat. "We can no longer isolate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the regional context."

If the conflict remains unresolved, the diplomat added, radical groups such as Islamic State will make the Palestinian cause their own.


Paris hopes to persuade Arab states, the European Union and U.N. Security Council members to pressure both sides to make compromises neither wants to make alone.

"The method to reach a definitive solution has been for both sides to meet face to face with the Americans as an honest broker, but this method has failed," the diplomat said. "It needs international support."

France has so far focused with Arab states on a possible U.N. Security Council resolution that would set negotiating parameters and establish a time period, possibly 18 months, to complete talks.

The trip comes before a final round of nuclear talks between major powers and Iran in late June. Washington has made clear it will not discuss the Middle East process until the Iran situation is clear, which could delay French moves beyond September.

In December, the U.S voted against a Palestinian-drafted resolution calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and the establishment of a Palestinian state by late 2017.

"If we are in a period without negotiations, and without the possibility of negotiations, we will have to look at all options," U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro told Israel's Army Radio.

Netanyahu has highlighted his opposition to French moves and Israeli deputy foreign minister Tzipy Hotovely dismissed it on Friday.

"The French initiative is counter-productive because it gives the illusion to the Palestinians that they will get something from the international community without having to make concessions," she told French daily Le Figaro.

She added that only direct dialogue between the two sides could resolve the conflict

The Palestinians say they are ready to work with the French, but say any resolution must include a time frame for ending the occupation and sets a clear frame of reference in terms of 1967 borders and East Jerusalem being the capital of a Palestinian state.

(Additional reporting by Luke Baker and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Tom Heneghan)