Hollande Says Israel-Palestinian Talks Only Path to Peace

  • France aims for creation of working groups to push for talks
  • Israelis say French effort will fail; Palestinians see hope

A settlement between Israel and the Palestinians can only come about through direct talks, but pressure from the international community is needed to get them there, French President Francois Hollande said at the opening of a one-day conference in Paris.

Israel and the Palestinians were not invited to the 26-country session, the first international effort in almost 10 years to reach a peace accord. French officials say their objective is to have another gathering by the end of the year with the two groups represented.

“This initiative has only one goal -- peace in the Middle East,” Hollande said. “The Israelis and Palestinians alone have to make the courageous choice of peace -- we can’t do it for them. Our initiative aims to give them guarantees that peace will be solid, lasting and under international supervision.”

Hollande said the upheaval in the Arab world since 2011 and the rise of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria have underlined the importance of resolving the Palestinian question as the lesson of recent years is that “vacuums are always filled by extremists.”

The conference aims to establish working groups to propose de-escalation measures, security arrangements, bilateral and regional cooperation, as well as to “identify the economic dividends of peace,” the French leader said. The conference includes the U.S., Russia, China, major European countries and Japan, as well as Arab neighbors such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Failed Efforts

The last major international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was hosted by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2007 in Annapolis, Maryland. The U.S. renewed its efforts to broker a deal in 2010 and again in 2013 ending a three-year hiatus. But after eight months, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down, with the U.S. blaming an expansion of settlements by Israel.

Israel believes the conference will fail because it encourages the Palestinians to believe the outside world will impose a solution, though France is “acting with goodwill,” Eran Lerman, former deputy director of Israel’s national security council, said Thursday.

“Once again the Palestinians are latching onto the vain hope of an imposed solution,” said Lerman, who is now at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. “None of this can be done except by both parties talking directly until they find a solution together.”

Saudi Plan

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did provide one opening this week, offering rare praise for a 14-year-old Saudi peace offer, while saying it required changes.

The 2002 Arab plan remains “the most interesting basis” for peace negotiations and Israel has indicated some “openings” to the initiative recently, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, told reporters in Paris Friday.

Israel never accepted the Saudi plan, which would require it to withdraw from most of the West Bank and other territory it captured almost half a century ago in return for normalizing ties with Arab nations.

The Paris talks provide a “flicker of hope,” Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat wrote Friday in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. The Palestinians have been pushing for a multinational mediator in any future peace talks to the replace the U.S., which is seen by the Palestinians and Europeans as too close to Israel.

Mogherini said that as Israel’s largest trading partner and as the Palestinian’s biggest donor, the EU can offer “incentives” for the two sides to engage in dialogue.

“The solution will have to come from the parties themselves but the international community has an obligation to get together and facilitate,” she said.

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