France to move forward on Mideast conference

June 7, 2011 - 5:12 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — France will move ahead with its proposal to bring Palestinians and Israelis together at a peace conference later this summer despite U.S. reservations, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Tuesday.

He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "responded positively" to the initiative and "the Israeli government is continuing to study the proposal." He said he expected a response from Israel soon.

Juppe said he discussed the proposal on Monday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and that the Americans are hesitant about plans for a large political conference without prior agreement of the two parties on the framework for the meeting.

"That's exactly what we have proposed," Juppe told reporters after attending a U.N. Security Council meeting on HIV/AIDS. "We think it is necessary to have an agreement of both the Palestinians and the Israelis on the parameters we are proposing."

He added: "We are still working on those ideas, and I think there will be positive developments during the next weeks."

Juppe stressed after Monday's meeting with Clinton that a resumption of negotiations is the only way to head off a Palestinian bid to secure recognition of an independent Palestinian state during the annual ministerial meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in September.

The French minister extended invitations to Palestinian and Israeli leaders to a peace conference during a visit to the Mideast last week.

He said the conference would use Israel's boundaries prior to the 1967 war as a starting point for talks on borders, a position endorsed by President Barack Obama but strongly opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Clinton said after meeting Juppe on Monday that the U.S. strongly supports a return to negotiations, but believes it can't be done without a lot of advance work.

A return to negotiations, she said, "will take a lot of persuasion and preliminary work in order to set up a productive meeting between the parties."

She said the Obama administration is in a "wait and see" mode about the merits of the conference in Paris.

The United States has taken the lead for years in trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Obama announced in September 2010, as U.S.-brokered direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed, that a peace treaty should be signed in a year. But those talks collapsed weeks later after Israel ended its freeze on building Jewish settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians.

With no sign of talks being revived, France, Britain and Germany launched an initiative in March to restart the stalled negotiations by proposing the outlines of a final settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The wanted U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the European Union to propose a settlement text at a meeting of the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., U.N., EU and Russia. But the United States, Israel's closest ally, blocked a Quartet meeting on the proposal in April, saying it wasn't the right time.

The French proposal for a peace conference is another indication that the Europeans are frustrated at the lack of progress in U.S. efforts to revive talks, and believe they might have a better chance.

Juppe told reporters that France believes "the status quo in the Middle East is unsustainable," a view which he said it widely shared around the globe.

Juppe said Ban told him at a meeting Tuesday that "he was concerned by the lack of progress in the situation and he hoped that this initiative will go in the right direction."