France Pushes Ahead on Mideast Peace Conference

YERUSHALAYIM -

Although France withdrew its ultimatum for either a Mideast peace conference or recognition of a Palestinian state this week, it has not given up on its initiative.

France’s special envoy to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is now slated to visit Israel next week to push for a regional peace conference this summer, the French Embassy in Israel announced Thursday.

The envoy, Pierre Vimont, is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Sunday for two days of meetings with officials in Tel Aviv and Ramallah.

The international summit is scheduled to take place in June or July, despite Israeli objections that peace negotiations should take the form of direct talks.

On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said France will not “automatically” recognize a Palestinian state if the conference does not go ahead, walking back pledges to do so by his predecessor Laurent Fabius.

Ayrault was visiting Egypt to discuss the viability of the French initiative.

An April meeting to prepare for the summer conference is supposed to include the United States, Russia, China, France and the U.K., as well as the “Arab quartet,” Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan and Egypt. Brazil, Japan, Germany, South Africa and India will also attend. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian officials will be there.