Palestinians to attend French-led talks
RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinians yesterday accepted a French invitation to attend a conference in Paris aimed at reviving peace talks with Israel, as their strategy to bypass negotiations and seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state appeared to be unraveling.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians were prepared to go to Paris and were waiting for Israeli and American responses.
France’s foreign minister, Alain Juppe, extended the invitation last week in a visit to the region, saying the conference could take place this month and would use Israel’s boundaries prior to the 1967 war as a starting point for talks. Israel would be loath to accept such a proposal and has not replied to Juppe’s invitation.
The Palestinians have refused to return to the bargaining table for months because Israel has rejected their demand to halt settlement construction on lands they claim for a future state. They are preparing to ask the UN General Assembly in September to recognize a Palestinian state, with or without a peace deal.
Palestinian officials said they had no high hopes for a French-led conference but would attend in an effort to restart the talks that broke down in late 2008 and revived only briefly this past September before collapsing over Israeli settlement construction.
Historically, the United States has taken the lead in trying to wrest an agreement from Israel and the Palestinians, and the Obama administration has been cool to the French proposal.
US officials have privately discouraged it, but the administration has not taken a public position. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Juppe would meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton tomorrow in Washington.
Two weeks ago, President Obama tried to entice the Palestinians to resume talks by asserting in a policy speech that Israel’s boundaries before the 1967 Mideast war should be the starting point for negotiations on future borders, with mutually agreed land swaps that would let Israel hold on to major West Bank settlement blocs.
The Palestinians had long sought an explicit statement to this effect from Washington. But they were disappointed by the peace blueprint Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, outlined later before Congress, dismissing it as a nonstarter because it disregards many of their key demands.
Under the French proposal, thornier issues would be left for a year later, including the status of contested Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees from the war surrounding Israel’s 1948 creation.