Israel Turns Down Mideast Peace Conference in Paris

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Prime Minister of France Manuel Valls (C), at the Prime Minister office in Jerusalem, May 23, 2016. Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets with Prime Minister of France Manuel Valls (L) at the Prime Minister’s office in Yerushalayim, May 23. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israel on Monday formally rejected France’s invitation to take part in a Mideast-peace conference in Paris later this year, saying it was a distraction from the goal of direct negotiations with the Palestinians.

At a meeting in Yerushalayim with Israel’s acting national security adviser and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s diplomatic adviser, French envoy Pierre Vimont was informed that Israel wanted nothing to do with the effort to revive talks that last broke down in 2014.

“[They] told the French envoy in a clear and unequivocal manner that Israel’s position to promote the peace process and reach an agreement will come only through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment from Vimont, but the French Foreign Ministry said it still planned to hold the conference before the end of the year.

France has repeatedly tried to breathe new life into the peace process this year, holding a preliminary conference in June at which the United Nations, European Union, United States and major Arab countries gathered to discuss proposals without the Israelis or Palestinians present.

The plan was to hold a follow-up conference before year-end with the Israelis and Palestinians involved and see whether the two sides could be brought back to negotiations. The last, U.S.-backed talks ended in failure in April 2014.

The Palestinians have said they will attend the Paris conference if it goes ahead.

Israel, which regards the United States as the chief broker in the Middle East, has long maintained that only direct negotiations with the Palestinians can lead to peace and sees France’s efforts as a diversion.

“Any other initiative, including this one, will only distance peace from the region,” Netanyahu’s office said, adding that it expected France “not to promote a conference or a process that is contrary to [our] official position.”

Israel says an international conference will also give Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas a platform on which to grandstand, rather than engage directly with the Israelis.

Many analysts believe the prospect of a two-state solution to the conflict is now beyond reach.