Spokesman: Israel Would Consider Invitation to Peace Talks With Palestinians

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -

Israel would consider a French invitation to conduct peace talks with the Palestinians, but believes France has made a mistake by saying it will recognize a Palestinian state if the talks fail, an Israeli government official said.

“If and when we get an invitation to a conference, we will examine it and respond to it,” the official, who declined to be named, said in a statement.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told foreign diplomats on Friday that if the conference he proposes hits a wall, “well … in this case, we need to face our responsibilities by recognizing the Palestinian state.”

The Israeli official dismissed the idea, saying, “Why would the Palestinians budge on even a comma in a conference if they already know that, without making progress, they will get what they want?”

Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas, speaking to African leaders at a summit in Ethiopia, urged them to back France’s conference plan. But two Israeli cabinet ministers, both allies of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, said Israel should boycott such a meeting.

“Unequivocally, Israel will not attend a conference under threat,” Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz told Channel 2, echoing a comment by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz to Channel 1.

Fabius has previously called for an international support group comprised of Arab states, the European Union and U.N. Security Council members to put pressure on the two sides to compromise. But Netanyahu has called France’s initiatives “counterproductive.”

A U.S. official responded cautiously to Fabius’s statement. “The U.S. position on this issue has been clear. We continue to believe that the preferred path to resolve this conflict is for the parties to reach an agreement on final status issues directly,” the official said.

Despite anger in the U.S. administration over Israeli building in Yehudah and Shomron, there is little prospect of President Barack Obama supporting any initiative that could upset the U.S. Jewish lobby 10 months before an election.