France Muscles into Israel-Palestine Debate

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With the Palestinians seeking to bring negotiations with Israel to a head, France has sought to insert itself as a moderating force that can break American dominance over the peace process.

"If there is a moment when France can do something, it's now," said Hasni Abidi, a Middle East expert based in Geneva.

The Palestinians have been seeking to present a combative resolution to the United Nations that would set a deadline of two years for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from their territories.

The French responded with a more nuanced version that would give talks another two years but does not mention the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

It marks an attempt by Paris to bridge the divide between the two sides, in contrast to the United States, which has been reluctant to impose deadlines on its historic ally Israel.

"The only American proposal, for the moment, is to threaten a veto" of the Palestinian resolution, said Abidi.

The U.S. is "trying to slow things down, to dissuade the Palestinians from moving ahead with their project that will put Israel in a difficult position."

The Palestinians appear keen to win European support and say they have modified their resolution to fit closer with that put forward by France.

The head of foreign affairs for the Palestinians, Riyad al-Malki, who met French counterpart Laurent Fabius on Tuesday, said their text was largely inspired by French suggestions, without specifying which parts.

He also said the French resolution no longer included a controversial passage that would see the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The foreign ministry in Paris declined to comment specifically on the extent to which the French suggestions had been included in the final text, saying only that their aim was to "bring together the international community to support the peace process."

"Our wish is therefore that a text is presented to the Security Council that can find unanimity," added spokesman Romain Nadal.

Central to France's vision for progress in the talks is that they should involve more countries than just the United States, traditionally a close protector of Israeli interests.

With Europe growing increasingly impatient over Israel's military operations and continued expansion into Palestinian territories, pressure has been mounting for a firmer line.

Earlier Wednesday, the European Parliament overwhelmingly backed the recognition of a Palestinian state "in principle", following a series of votes on the issue in EU nations that have enraged Israel.

"For 25 years the peace process has been a failure due to the internal constraints of the two parties (the Israelis and Palestinians). We must find a new approach," said a French diplomatic source.

Paris wants a definitive solution at the end of the two years, the source said.

It has also proposed an international conference to coincide with the resumption of negotiations, which have been stalled for months by the recent violence.

The United States has so far refused to take a clear stance on France's recent involvement. Britain and Germany have also steered clear of comment.

For the Israelis, everything about France's interference is unacceptable, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying "the attempts of the Palestinians and of several European countries to force conditions on Israel will only lead to a deterioration in the regional situation and will endanger Israel".

The broad outlines of a deal have been known for years: the borders as they stood in 1967, Jerusalem as a joint capital, efforts to fairly repatriate refugees, all while ensuring Israel's security.

But anything that sounds like a deadline is fiercely opposed by Israel.

"We... stand against the possibility of a diplomatic assault, that is an attempt to compel us by means of U.N. decisions to withdraw to the 1967 lines within two years," Netanyahu said over the weekend.

Comments 1
Thumb chrisrushlau 17 December 2014, 20:59

Israel has repeatedly made clear that it is open to any reasonable proposal to free the slaves, numbering some eight million, upon whom the Jewish state is based. "We can start by giving them a couple of hours of free time on Sunday afternoon, perhaps," said Israel's Minister of Fantasy Truth, James "Ralph" al Thani.