Netanyahu Tells France’s Ayrault He Still Opposes Peace Conference

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on May 15, 2016 during a meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem.Ayrault met Netanyahu before meeting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas ahead of a France-sponsored Middle East peace process summit in Paris on May 30. Israel has rejected the initiative, the Palestinians support it and the United States has been cold. REUTERS/ MENAHEM KAHANA/Pool

JERUSALEM, May 15 – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told France’s foreign minister on Sunday that Israel remained opposed to a French initiative for an international conference to try revive peace talks.

Palestinians welcomed the proposal but Israel is concerned an international forum would try to dictate terms for a peace deal.

In public remarks to his cabinet after meeting France’s Jean-Marc Ayrault, Netanyahu said: “I told him the only way to advance genuine peace between us and the Palestinians is through direct negotiations between us and them, without preconditions.”

Anything other than bilateral talks would give the Palestinians an “escape hatch” through which to avoid meeting his demand that they recognise Israel as the “nation state of the Jewish people”, he said.

Israel made the same arguments in the formal response it gave last month. France hopes an international conference would set out a framework for peace negotiations after U.S. efforts to broker a two-state deal collapsed in April 2014.

After meeting Netanyahu, Ayrault travelled to Ramallah in the occupied West Bank to discuss the initiative with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Neither spoke to reporters.

An international gathering, planned for May 30 in Paris, is set to include the Middle East Quartet (the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations), the Arab League, the U.N. Security Council and about 20 countries, without Israeli or Palestinian participation.

Diplomats say that meeting will package all economic incentives and other guarantees that various countries have offered in previous years to create an agenda for a peace conference in the autumn.

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