French FM Promotes New Israeli-Palestinian Effort, Warns of ‘Explosion’

By Patrick Goodenough | June 22, 2015 | 4:05am EDT
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius speaks during a press conference with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, June 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

( – The Middle East and North Africa region is in turmoil from Iraq to Yemen and from Syria to Libya, but French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned Sunday of an “explosion” unless the deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is broken.

Speaking in Ramallah, he said both Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah had expressed that view to him during talks with them over the weekend.

Fabius was speaking after meeting with Palestinian Authority (P.A.) chairman Mahmoud Abbas during an intensive regional trip designed to push a French initiative to secure a U.N. Security Council resolution laying out the basis and a timeframe for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.

The Obama administration has threatened to veto similar measures in the past, but France is hoping it has softened its opposition.

“Our American friends have made statements which are maybe more open than before,” the Times of Israel quoted Fabius as telling reporters following talks with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem later on Sunday.

After Netanyahu, on the eve of a general election last March, appeared to rule out Palestinian statehood on his watch, administration officials said U.S. policy was being re-evaluated.

Rather than state categorically that the U.S. would veto any new Security Council resolution, then-State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on March 18 the administration was “not going to prejudge what we would do if there was a U.N. action.”

Last Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power responded similarly when asked about the veto position, telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee she would not make “blanket declarations on hypothetical resolutions.”

Power did also say the administration would “oppose anything that was designed to punish Israel or undermine Israel’s security.”

Beyond a Security Council resolution, the French proposal also involves the setting up of an international monitoring mechanism. The envisaged grouping would involve European nations and permanent Security Council members as well as – for the first time – Arab states, and would prod the Israelis and Palestinians towards reaching a final deal.

Abbas welcomed the French plan, P.A. foreign minister Riyadh al-Maliki told reporters after the Abbas-Fabius meeting.

But Netanyahu made clear his government’s rejection of pressure from outside, telling his cabinet before meeting with Fabius on Sunday that Israel strongly rejects “attempts to force international diktat on us.”

When he did meet with the Frenchman, Netanyahu hammered home the objections:

“Peace will only come from direct negotiations between the parties, without preconditions. It will not come from U.N. resolutions that are sought to be imposed from the outside,” he told Fabius.

Netanyahu said attempts to “impose terms on Israel” would not only fail, they would in fact “drive peace away.”

“First, Israel will resist the imposition of terms from the outside. And second, the Palestinians will never agree to negotiate if they think the international community will give them what they want without negotiations,” he said.

“I think there’s no magic shortcut. Peace demands a commitment to direct negotiations without preconditions.”

France is forging ahead with its Israeli-Palestinian proposal at a time when the Arab world is being roiled by crises including the spread of Sunni terror and extremism, conflict in Iraq and Yemen, the Syrian civil war, and instability and violence in Libya.

Paris tried to push its initiative earlier this year, but was reportedly urged by U.S. and Arab officials last April to hold off until the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program – an Obama administration priority – have been wrapped up.

In an April 19 interview with the Financial Times, Fabius said France still had to agree with Secretary of State John Kerry on the timing for the new French Mideast push. He conceded that there were “other issues” that had to be dealt with, and said that “one negotiation should not hurt another.”

The deadline for an Iran deal is just over a week away.

In his remarks with Fabius, Netanyahu reiterated his long-declared position on Palestinian statehood, first laid out in a policy speech six years ago – that a future independent state be demilitarized, and that the Palestinian leadership explicitly recognize Israel as the national homeland for the Jewish people. The P.A. has repeatedly rejected both.

Netanyahu said the two foundations for peace were mutual recognition and security.

“The need for security is self-evident for anyone that follows developments in this region. The Middle East is undergoing a period of unprecedented volatility and violence.”

“Our concerns are not pretexts or excuses,” Netanyahu added. “They are genuine. A peace deal that ignores these realities will be swept away by the winds of extremism and violence that blow throughout the Middle East.”

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