French PM To Visit Israel In Bid To Relaunch Peace Process

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories this month in a bid to relaunch the peace process following the worst flare-up of violence in the Gaza Strip for two years, his office said Tuesday.

His visit, from May 21-24, comes as France seeks to engineer a peace deal based on a two-state solution.

It will happen ahead of a May 30 meeting which France is organising for ministers from 20 countries to try and relaunch the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

That proposed meeting has been welcomed by the Palestinians, who have suspended a planned UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements to focus on the bid.

But Israel has consistently argued that peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the two sides, rather than international forums.

French Foreign Minister Marc Ayrault has said the aim of the meeting is to prepare an international summit in the second half of 2016, which would include the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

The trip to Israel will also be a chance for Valls to smooth over a row over a recent UNESCO resolution, backed by France, which spoke of “Occupied Palestine”.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has attacked the “absurd” resolution which also condemned “Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their Holy Site Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif”, failing to mention the site’s Jewish name of the Temple Mount.

Valls will meet Netanyahu on May 23.

He will arrive in Israel the previous day and also plans to meet President Reuven Rivlin, former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres and opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

On May 24 he is scheduled to travel to Ramallah where he will hold talks with Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah.


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