French Middle East peace summit postponed

France postpones Mideast peace summit as US State Department evades question of attendance.

David Rosenberg , | updated: 10:55 AM

John Kerry disembarks (file)
John Kerry disembarks (file)

A planned Middle East peace summit hosted by the French government has US Secretary of State John Kerry in a bind, pitting the Obama administration's hopes that the meeting will rekindle stalled talks against the State Department's long standing support for bilateral negotiations.

While Kerry has suggested that scheduling issues could prevent his attendance, France has stated the summit will be postponed to fit with the Secretary's other commitments.

The peace summit, organized by the French Foreign Ministry and originally scheduled for later this month, has won the enthusiastic backing of the Palestinian Authority, who see the event as an opportunity to evade direct one-on-one negotiations with Israel and apply acute pressure on the Jewish state to make concessions.

Israel has rejected the proposed summit, stating that it negates the principle of bilateral negotiations without preconditions or external interference.

The summit was initially framed as an ultimatum, threatening that should Israel fail to attend, or if the two sides should fail to reach an agreement by the end of the summit, France would unilaterally recognize Palestinian statehood.

The French Foreign Ministry later walked back that claim, stating that recognition of a Palestinian state “would not be automatic”.

The upcoming summit has left the US State Department torn between hopes that the event could spark momentum on the diplomatic front, and its own commitment to the resumption direct bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

American and foreign officials have given mixed messages regarding whether Secretary of State John Kerry will attend the summit.

While Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed that Kerry assured PA President Mahmoud Abbas that he would indeed attend, on Tuesday State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the Secretary was not available for the May 30th summit.

US officials noted that the original date of the summit coincided with Memorial Day.

Shortly thereafter, however, French President Francois Hollande announced that the peace summit would be postponed, so as to enable the Secretary of State to attend.

“John Kerry cannot come on May 30, so it has been delayed. It will take place in the summer,” Hollande told French radio.

Hollande insisted that the summit was of paramount importance, saying that France must lead with “a strong initiative”, AFP reported.

"If not... what will happen? Settlement building, attacks," he said. "We are going to work will all the actors, the big countries and neighboring nations, to create the parameters that will allow the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table."

Despite France’s willingness to reschedule the conference, however, State Department officials refused to commit, saying that Kerry’s agenda was “jammed”.