TEL AVIV – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his rejection of a French-led peace initiative, but told his French counterpart that he was ready to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the coming days.
“If you really want to help launch peace, then help us launch direct negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas,” Netanyahu said in a meeting with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in Jerusalem.
“I’m ready to clear my schedule and fly to Paris tomorrow. Well, I think tomorrow we’re expanding the government, but the day after tomorrow,” Netanyahu quipped, referring to ongoing coalition negotiations with the Yisrael Beytenu party.
“And it’s an open offer. I will clear my calendar, and I hope that this is taken up by you and by the Palestinians.”
“Israelis and Palestinians have suffered too much. It’s time to sit down together and work out our differences so that peace may reign at long last,” he added.
Valls told Netanyahu he would relay his offer to French President Francois Hollande.
On June 3, ministers from some 20 countries – including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – will convene in Paris to launch a proposal for peace.
Israelis and Palestinians are not invited to the peace summit.
While the Palestinians have welcomed the French-led initiative, Netanyahu has opposed it under the assumption that Abbas will try to bypass direct negotiations in favor of a timeline imposed on Israel by the international community.
“The Palestinian leadership doesn’t see the French initiative as an inducement to compromise, but rather as a way to avoid it. In fact, the Palestinian prime minister [Rami] Hamdallah let slip the other day his hope for an imposed timetable, rather than a negotiated peace,” Netanyahu told French Foreign Minister Jean Marc Ayrault last week.
On Monday, however, he told Valls that he would accept the peace plan with one crucial amendment.
“I would gladly accept a different French initiative, and here’s the one important change,” Netanyahu said. “This initiative can still take place in Paris, because that would be a marvelous place to sign a peace accord.”
“It can still be called the French initiative, because you would host this genuine effort for peace, but here’s the difference: I will sit alone directly with President Abbas in the Élysée Palace, or anywhere else that you choose,” Netanyahu said.
He added that every issue would be open for discussion, including recognition of a Jewish state and the Palestinian refugee question.
“There is no issue too complex to solve if both sides are willing to talk to each other. And I am more than willing; I am eager,” said Netanyahu.
“Peace is not achieved in international UN-style conferences, nor through international diktats that come of meetings of countries around the world sitting to decide our fate,” Netanyahu told Valls.
“Peace is achieved through direct negotiations where the Palestinian Authority would face a historic choice: Recognize a Jewish state side by side with a demilitarized Palestinian state, or try to eliminate it.”
He expressed his hope that the French leadership would encourage Abbas to come to Paris to engage in direct negotiations without preconditions.
Later, Netanyahu later declared in the Knesset, “I’m willing to take bold steps with the help of regional partners.”
Netanyahu thanked Valls for criticizing his country’s vote in favor of a UNESCO resolution that denied Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.
“I know of your friendship to Israel and your commitment to Franco-Israeli relations, your stalwart position against anti-Semitism and that of Francois Hollande,” Netanyahu said.
“The reason that this [UNESCO] vote was so troubling for us is that it implies that the Jewish people have no right to be here. And I think that remains the core of the conflict, the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to have a nation-state in their ancestral homeland. I hope you encourage other nations that voted for this outrageous resolution to follow your lead and admit it was an error. And, of course, the most important thing is that it doesn’t happen again.”