Abbas welcomes bid to revive talks
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has responded favourably to a French proposal to bring Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to Paris to try and breathe new life into the collapsed peace talks. Israel has yet to respond publicly to the proposal.
REUTERS - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday cautiously welcomed a French proposal to convene Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Paris to try to revive collapsed peace talks.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe this week offered to host talks to discuss ideas for a Palestinian state raised last month by U.S. President Barack Obama, aiming to avert a showdown at the United Nations in September.
“We said that in principle this initiative is acceptable,” Abbas told Reuters, two days after talks with Juppe in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Abbas said the French plan “talks about President Obama’s vision ... in which he spoke about a (Palestinian) state with the ‘67 borders, with borders with Israel, Egypt and Jordan.”
Under the plan discussed with Juppe, “neither side would carry out unilateral actions,” Abbas added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has yet to respond publicly to the French proposal, has rejected any withdrawal to the borders existing before Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war, insisting such a frontier would be “indefensible.”
After meeting Juppe on Saturday, the Israeli leader said he asked France to continue efforts to secure the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by the Islamist group Hamas since his capture in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip in 2006.
Thousands protest in Tel Aviv
Opinion polls show many Israelis support Netanyahu’s stance though some worry a protracted diplomatic stalemate may bring fresh violence. In Tel Aviv, 5,000 turned out for a march sponsored by left-wing groups, many holding signs demanding Israel agree to a two-state solution using the 1967 borders.
The French proposal calls for Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to meet this month or by early July with an eye to reviving talks which broke off last year in a dispute on Jewish settlement building in land Palestinians seek for a state.
The Palestinians plan unilaterally to seek U.N. recognition of statehood in September—a step Israel strongly opposes, fearing it could end up isolated internationally.
The United States has already said it opposes the plan, and this stand could kill off the initiative in the Security Council before it can reach the General Assembly.
France, also one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, has not yet decided whether to back the Palestinians, Juppe said.
“We are convinced that if nothing happens here between now and September the situation will be very difficult for everyone at the time of the United Nations General Assembly,” Juppe said during his visit this week.
“We have to avoid such a situation and the only way to avoid it is to do what we are proposing, that’s to say return to the (negotiating) table,” Juppe said.