JERUSALEM // France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Sunday rejected comments by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who cast doubt on the impartiality of a French initiative to revive Israeli-Palestinians peace talks.
Speaking to his cabinet after his meeting with Mr Ayrault, Mr Netanyahu said they discussed “the scandalous resolution accepted at Unesco with France’s support, that does not recognise the bond of thousands of years between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount, casts a shadow over the impartiality of the entire forum France is trying to convene”.
He was referring to a resolution adopted last month by the Paris-based UN cultural body on the flashpoint Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, which made no reference to the fact it is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and is the most sacred site in Judaism.
“France has no vested interest, but is deeply convinced that if we don’t want to let the ideas of the Islamic State group prosper in this region, we must do something,” Mr Ayrault insisted after meeting Mr Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas separately.
The Palestinians have welcomed the French proposal, but Israel is concerned that the conference that France seeks to hold in the autumn would try to dictate terms for a peace deal.
“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,” Mr Netanyahu said.
France hopes the conference would set out a framework for peace negotiations, after US efforts to broker a two-state deal collapsed in April 2014.
Sources close to Mr Ayrault said on Sunday that France “regretted” the Unesco resolution, echoing remarks by French prime minister Manuel Valls who on Wednesday called it “clumsy” and “unfortunate” and said it should have been avoided.
But at the same time, Mr Ayrault rejected Netanyahu’s claim of French impartiality, insisting that an Israeli-Palestinian peace process was imperative to prevent the spread of deadly extremist violence.
“I know that Netanyahu does not agree [to the French proposal],” he said, but France would continue to pursue the initiative and that its ultimate goal was for both sides to return to direct talks.
“It is very clear to us, and I said this today to both the prime minister and to President Abbas, that we cannot take the place of the two parties,” he said at the end of a one-day visit to promote the plan.
“Only they can conduct direct negotiations to achieve a solution,” Mr Ayrault said. “But because things are currently stuck ... external intervention is necessary to provide renewed momentum.”
An international gathering of ministers, tentatively 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 UN Security Council and about 20 countries, without Israeli or Palestinian participation.
* Agence-France Presse and Reuters