U.S. reluctant to support French initiative

State Department unable to say whether Kerry will attend France's international summit aimed at solving Israel-PA conflict.

Ben Ariel,

John Kerry in Paris
John Kerry in Paris
Reuters

The United States appears reluctant to support a French initiative to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with a major conference this month, AFP reported Wednesday.

The State Department was unable to say on Wednesday whether Secretary of State John Kerry will attend a planned May 30 meeting in Paris.

And outside experts say Washington is unlikely to want to allow France to take the lead on an issue that it traditionally sees as its own.

"We remain concerned about the continued violence on the ground and we welcome all ideas on moving this forward," American spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said.

"On this specific conference, on the May 30 event, no decision's been made on participation."

"We still remain in consultation with the French and other international partners on it," she added.

Kerry was in Paris on Monday to see his counterpart Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, and his deputy Antony Blinken was there again on Wednesday.

France's prime minister, Manuel Valls, will visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority this month to try to drum up interest in the French initiative, it was announced Tuesday.

Back in January when the French initiative was announced, Paris had threatened to unilaterally recognize the "state of Palestine" if the talks failed.

Since then, Ayrault backtracked on the threat, saying France would not “automatically” recognize a Palestinian state if its initiative fails.

Israel opposes the plan to bring ministers from 20 countries to Paris, insisting peace will come only through direct talks with the Palestinians. The PA supports the initiative.

But there is clearly little enthusiasm in Washington, as Ghaith al-Omari, a fellow of the Washington Institute of Near East Policy and a former adviser to Palestinian peace negotiators, told AFP.

"They're reluctant on at least two fronts.  One front is that there's always been American reluctance to engage in anything about the peace process that is not American led," he said, adding, "The other component is that the administration has not decided yet whether or not they will be doing something American in the next few months."

Reports in Washington have suggested that President Barack Obama, due to leave office in January, may be planning a major speech to outline terms for peace.

And Washington may decide to take a blueprint for the "two-state solution" to the conflict to the UN Security Council to be enshrined in international law.

But Obama has yet to decide whether to insert himself into an issue that has frustrated so many of his predecessors -- or whether to let the French try.

"Until there's a decision it's unlikely that the U.S. will engage in any external initiatives," Omari told AFP.

"If the president is going to give a speech I can't see Kerry going to the French initiative. If not then there might be more space for American engagement," he added.

Obama recently expressed pessimism over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being resolved during his tenure and added the conflict has been going for 60 years and would not be resolved in the next nine months.

But Kerry, for his part, said last month that the United States would push for a two-state peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians until the end of Obama's mandate.




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