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Middle East

Israel rejects French peace initiative, insisting on direct talks with Palestinians

The French attempt had started in June with international conference convening the UN, EU, US and major Arab states. The aim was to gather proposals and then invite Israelis and Palestinians to a conference.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally rejected France's Mideast peace initiative on Monday, saying Israel would not attend a French-backed international conference before the end of the year.

French envoy Pierre Vimont was in Jerusalem to try to garner Israel's support for the initiative but was flatly rejected.

"(They) told the French envoy in a clear and unequivocal manner that Israel's position to promote the peace process and reach an agreement will only come through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

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Israeli settlers in Hebron spark Palestinian outrage

The statement added that the Israeli government expected France to scupper the conference.

"Any other initiative, including this one, will only distance peace from the region," Netanyahu's office said, adding that it expected France "not to promote a conference or a process that is contrary to (our) official position."

Vimont did not immediately respond to Israel's position, but the French foreign ministry said it still planned to go ahead with the conference before year's end.

The Palestinians said they are committed to attending the French-backed conference if it goes forward.

Past talks collapse

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DW correspondent on possible Israeli responses

The last US-backed peace initiative collapsed in 2014, as Israel continued to build settlements in the occupied West Bank, which is regarded to be a slap in the face to the Palestinian's fundamental goal of establishing its own contiguous state.

President Barack Obama's administration twice tried to forge a peace agreement but Israeli intransigence over the settlements, as well as political divisions among the Palestinians led to the collapse of the talks.

Most of the so-called "final status" issues are clear to both sides, but analysts doubt a breakthrough will come about without genuine US pressure on the Israelis to halt settlement building in its nearly 50-year long occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

France has repeatedly tried to pump new life into the stalled peace process this year, holding a preliminary conference in June where the United Nations, European Union, United States and major Arab countries gathered to put forth proposals without the Israelis or Palestinians present.

The plan was to then hold a follow-up conference before year-end with the Israelis and Palestinians involved to see if the two sides could be brought back to the negotiating table.

Despite Israel's hard line, Netanyahu has expressed concern that incumbent US President Obama might break with recent US practice before leaving office in January, and back - or at least not veto - a UN Security Council resolution laying out parameters for resolving the conflict.

bik/ss (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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