TEL AVIV – A Left-leaning Meretz official accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of giving the French “the middle finger” following France’s threat to recognize Palestine in the absence of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The leader of the opposition party Meretz, Zehava Gal-On, lashed out at Netanyahu over the latter’s rejection of France’s offer to convene an international conference with the aim of resuming the stalled talks aimed at creating a Palestinian state.
“Netanyahu may be great at identifying threats, but is terrible at identifying opportunities and finding solutions, ignoring the fact that the world is intent on reaching a two-state solution,” Gal-On said.
She added, “Instead of offering his hand to the French initiative, Netanyahu is giving it the middle finger.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced Friday that should France’s attempts to establish a two-state solution fail, Paris would recognize a Palestinian state.
Other leaders of the Left-wing opposition also blamed the French threat on the current Israeli government’s failed diplomatic policies.
“Only an Israeli diplomatic initiative will enable Israel to retain control of its future and relieve us of the tightening international pressure around our necks,” Zionist Union Member of Knesset Tzipi Livni said. “As long as there is no initiative on our part, the Palestinians will continue to make gains in the world.”
However, the government’s rejection of the French ultimatum received support from centrist Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, who said that Israel would not be coerced into negotiations.
“We won’t be dragged with threats to the negotiating table,” Lapid said. “No sovereign nation would accept that. We need to enter negotiations on our terms and according to our timetable with an understanding that we do not want and must not try to absorb 3.5 million Palestinians. But it won’t be like this.”
He added, however, that the French initiative “points to a serious deterioration in our international standing. It wouldn’t have happened in the past.
“A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council would not have announced unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state without discussing it with us first. In the past, the United States Customs would not have joined the campaign to label (settlement) products. In the past the European Union would not have labelled Israeli goods including from the Golan Heights.”
An unnamed American official also rejected the French proposal. “The US position on this issue has been clear. We continue to believe that the preferred path to resolve this conflict is for the parties to reach an agreement on final status issues directly,” the official said.
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials embraced the move. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday, “We welcome the French initiative and affirm that the status quo cannot continue. Our people will continue to use political and legal methods, through a peaceful and popular resistance, to achieve our national rights.”
Abbas reiterated his call for the United Nations Security Council to play a larger role in the conflict and provide Palestinians with international protection from Israel.
“We are not going to return to the negotiations (with Israel) for the sake of negotiating,” Abbas said. “And we won’t remain the only ones to implement the signed agreements (with Israel). We will never accept provisional or partial solutions and we will continue to work for peace. It’s inconceivable that Israel remain a country above international law.”
Abbas also accused Israel of seeking to change the status quo on the Temple Mount and warned that this could turn a political conflict into a religious one, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“Peace and security in our region won’t be achieved unless the occupation and settlements end,” Abbas said. “We shall remain on this land.”
Senior PLO official and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians “commend the French idea to promote serious international involvement in an effort to end the Israeli occupation that began in 1967.”
Erekat also said that the Palestinians will begin promoting the French initiative to other nations in the coming days.
Paris said it is hoping to host the peace conference, which will convene officials from Europe, America, and the Arab world, this summer.