The head of Israel’s foreign ministry said Thursday that France’s bid to revive Israel-Palestinian peace talks was doomed to failure, like a 1916 colonial effort to carve up the Middle East.
“This effort utterly failed then and will completely fail today,” Dore Gold told journalists on the eve of an international meeting in Paris, referring to the Sykes-Picot agreement to draw up the region’s borders.
“The only way to get a stable regional arrangement that will allow us to create real peace in the Middle East is if the parties of the region come to understandings between them,” he said.
“We believe the Arab states would give backing to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Gold, the ministry’s director general.
“Therefore we prefer a Middle Eastern process and not a process that somebody is trying to create in Paris.
“What France is organising is not a regional conference it’s an international conference,” he said.
According to French diplomatic sources, the fresh peace push would centre on the 2002 Saudi peace initiative.
Under that proposal, Arab leaders said they would recognise the state of Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied since 1967, and the creation of a Palestinian state.
The proposal was largely ignored by Israel at the time but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a positive reference to it on Monday, saying it “includes positive elements that can help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians”.
British diplomat Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot of France drew the borders of a new Middle East in May 1916 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
“It was at the apex of the era of colonialism in our area,” Gold said. “Their effort failed as we see today in the deserts of Iraq and Syria.”
Netanyahu has already rejected the French-led multilateral effort.
“The way to peace is via direct negotiations without preconditions between the sides,” he said in an address Wednesday evening.
“If the nations meeting in Paris this week really want to advance peace they should join me in calling on Abu Mazen to come to direct negotiations of this kind,” he said using a familiar name for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
In talks Thursday with visiting Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, Netanyahu told his guest that the French initiative gave Abbas an opportunity to evade direct negotiations, an Israeli government statement said.
Neither Israel nor the Palestinians will be represented in Paris at Friday’s talks, which aim to lay the ground for a fully-fledged peace conference to be held by the end of the year.