Israel has no interest in multilateral peace talks, urges direct dialogue with Palestinians

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on May 15, 2016 during a meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem. © Menahem Kahana
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has poured cold water on the French peace initiative, saying that foreign power involvement would give Palestine an "escape hatch" to avoid recognizing Israel. The PM insists only direct talks will work.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, aiming to convince Israel to revive the Palestinian – Israeli peace talks, which collapsed two years ago, after Tel Aviv refused to budge on Palestinian preconditions.

"I told him [Ayrault] the only way to advance genuine peace between us and the Palestinians is through direct negotiations between us and them, without preconditions," Netanyahu told his cabinet after meeting with the French foreign minister.

Foreign involvement in negotiations, Netanyahu said, offers an "escape hatch" for Palestinians not to recognize Israel as a nation state.

"Our experience with history shows that only this way did we achieve peace with Egypt and Jordan, and that any other attempt only makes peace more remote and gives the Palestinians an escape hatch to avoid confronting the root of the conflict, which is non-recognition of the State of Israel," he said.

Furthermore, France’s support last month for a UNESCO resolution that denied Jewish ties to the Temple Mount, "casts a shadow on the fairness" of the peace bid, Netanyahu said.

The French FM warned that Israel's security was being threatened by the absence of dialogue.

"France has no vested interest, but is deeply convinced that if we don't want to let the ideas of the Islamic State group prosper in this region, we must do something."

Apart from Netanyahu, Ayrault also met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, who has supported the idea of the renewed peace process. Just before concluding his visit, Ayrault promised to continue to strive for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement.

"We aren't giving up, and neither are our partners," Ayrault said at a press conference at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, at the close of his visit to Israel. "Netanyahu said he only wanted direct negotiations, but that option is stalled," he added.

A tentative preparatory meeting penciled in to take place on May 30 in Paris had previously been announced. Its aim is to set the agenda for possible peace negotiations in autumn. While Israel and Palestine are currently not attending, the Middle East Quartet (United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia) are planning to join, in addition to representatives of some 20 other nations.

Peace talks between Israel and Palestine have been at a standstill since the last US efforts collapsed two years ago. Parties failed to come to concessions after Abbas forged an unexpected unity pact with rival Hamas, which Israel views as a terrorist organization that doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist.