French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe arrived in Jerusalem Wednesday on what was described as an “exploratory mission” aimed at reviving the stalled talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority through a peace conference in Paris, AFP reported.
“We are convinced ... that maintaining the status quo in the Middle East would be a serious mistake. Everything is changing in this region, in Egypt, in Syria, so we must move to regain the initiative,” AFP quoted Juppe as saying after meeting with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Rome, prior to leaving on his trip to the Middle East.
Juppe added, “If nothing happens by September, France has already indicated that it would draw its own conclusions.”
Juppe was referring to French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s comments last month in which he said that France would “assume its responsibilities on the central issue of recognizing a Palestinian state.”
In an interview with the weekly L’Express magazine last month, Sarkozy said, “In all my political life I have been a friend of Israel. But there will be no security for Israel without a viable, democratic and modern Palestinian state.”
Abbas has threatened to seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations in September if no breakthrough occurs in the peace process.
At the same time he has flatly refused to come to the negotiating table and has manufactured preconditions when pressured by the Quartet, especially the United States, for the PA to restart peace talks with Israel.
Juppe comes to Israel with invitations to a peace conference in Paris in late June. A French official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the Foreign Minister’s visit is aimed at looking at “the possibilities of finding a path” to peace.
On his arrival in Jerusalem, Juppe was met by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. On Thursday he will meet with the PA’s Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah and will later meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu met last month in Paris with President Sarkozy and later said that he was happy to hear the French president say that Hamas has to abandon terror and recognize Israel when it enters a PA unity government with Abbas’ Fatah party.
AFP reported that Juppe is also scheduled to meet with the parents of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held hostage for five years by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
Shalit also holds French citizenship, and Sarkozy’s aides have said that France will work to secure his release.