2. Israel – Palestinian Territories – Middle East peace initiative – Interview given by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to the daily newspaper Le Monde
Q. – Why is this meeting taking place now?
THE MINISTER – Our desire is to emerge from the current status quo. On the ground, particularly in the Palestinian Territories, the situation is deteriorating. Settlement activity is continuing, organized or uncontrolled. For a visitor going there, the space available for a Palestinian state is tangibly diminishing. In the Palestinian Territories and the camps in Jordan and Lebanon, the propaganda of Daesh [so-called ISIL] is exploiting the despair. Everyone who is concerned about peace and wants security in the region is making the same observation. I've consulted widely: the countries in the region are worried about this dead-end situation.
The two-state solution – an Israeli state and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security, with Jerusalem as the shared capital – has always been France's position. It was presented by François Mitterrand to the Knesset in 1982, during his historic visit. That prospect is receding. There are no direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. So we must regain the initiative at international level to create a favourable environment.
Q. – Can this initiative be any more successful than the attempts previously made by the United States, particularly the one by Secretary of State John Kerry?
THE MINISTER – The American Secretary of State has really put his heart and soul into mediation. His assessment is similar to ours. A new climate must be created at international level, to tell the two sides: we're not going to negotiate for you, it's your responsibility as Israelis and Palestinians, but we want to help you. The last international conference was in Annapolis (in the United States) nine years ago. So our goal is to galvanize the international community again.
With this in mind, our starting point is all the work done until now: the UN Security Council resolutions, the Madrid principles, i.e. land for peace, the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 and the Road Map of the Quartet (United States, EU, Russia and UN). On 3 June, I'll be proposing the creation of working groups that will list the contributions of the different countries present, in order to highlight, for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, the dividends of peace.
Q. – Namely?
THE MINISTER – After the meeting, I'm aiming for two results: confirmation of the prospect of a conference with the parties by the end of the year, and the establishment of several working groups. The theme of one will be economic incentives like, for example, the offer of a privileged partnership with the European Union and an association agreement for the future Palestinian state. A second group will focus on the regional environment and security guarantees.
Q. – The Palestinian Authority supports this approach. Are you waiting for anything else from it?
THE MINISTER – As I said both times I met President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians also have work to do: inter-Palestinian reconciliation and unity between the West Bank and Gaza. This can be done only on a very clear basis: that of the peace and dialogue agenda promoted by the Palestinian President. Hamas must take the first step and accept the framework set by the international community, namely recognition of the State of Israel and the agreements reached, and the renunciation of violence.
Q. – Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says the only solution is based on direct negotiations.
THE MINISTER – Today, those direct negotiations don't exist. When I met Binyamin Netanyahu, he told me he supported the two-state solution but opposed the method we're proposing. This disagreement on method can be overcome. Unless we emerge from the current impasse, we're heading straight to disaster. The context has changed: the development of terrorism is having an impact, including in that part of the region. We're talking about a danger for Israel. France is a friend of Israel, and there's currently genuine concern about its security and its future.
Q. – With the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman to the defence portfolio, the current Israeli government is the most right-wing in the country's history.
THE MINISTER – Israel is a democracy and the choice of its government is up to the Israeli people. Disagreements have been expressed publicly within the government itself, where a minister has just resigned. There are arguments within the army. Our initiative can only help move the debate forward, including in Israel.
Q. – The initial plan envisaged France recognizing Palestine in the event of the process failing. Why isn't this being mentioned any more?
THE MINISTER – A few months ago, you would have told me such a meeting was impossible. I wanted to create the conditions for it to be held. I'm not thinking in terms of failure. The Palestinians I spoke to understood this perfectly, and they themselves decided to withdraw the draft resolution on settlement activity which they wanted to present at the UN. We must have the maximum number of countries around the table in order to overcome a situation of deadlock and arrive at this two-state solution.
Q. – The Americans are in an election campaign. Doesn't that complicate things?
THE MINISTER – It's bound to be less comfortable for the Obama administration, and at the same time it justifies even further our initiative to create momentum. John Kerry understands the purpose of our approach and will be present in Paris. That's the case with many other countries and international organizations. It's a fine political result; I see it as recognition of the consistency of France's commitment and position on the conflict. Even when the people we're speaking to express disagreements, no one doubts France's sincerity./.