Netanyahu casts doubt on impartiality of French initiative
JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday French support for a UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem cast doubt on the impartiality of its Middle East peace initiative, a claim Paris denied.
Netanyahu had met French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and discussed the "scandalous resolution accepted at UNESCO with France's support, that does not recognise the bond of thousands of years between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount," he told ministers ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting.
This French support "casts a shadow over the impartiality of the entire forum France is trying to convene," Netanyahu said.
The Israeli premier was referring to a resolution adopted last month by the Paris-based UN cultural body on the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, which made no reference to the fact it is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and is the most sacred site in Judaism.
Sources close to Ayrault said on Sunday that France "regretted" the resolution, echoing remarks by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls who on Wednesday called it "clumsy" and "unfortunate" and said it should have been avoided.
But at the same time, Ayrault rejected Netanyahu's claim of French impartiality, insisting that an Israeli-Palestinian peace process was imperative to prevent the spread of deadly Islamist violence.
"France has no vested interest, but is deeply convinced that if we don't want to let the ideas of the Islamic State group prosper in this region, we must do something," he told reporters at Ben Gurion airport after meeting both Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Ayrault was on a visit to prepare for a May 30 international ministerial meeting to try to revive Middle East peace talks that have been frozen since a US-brokered initiative collapsed in April 2014.
Israeli and Palestinian representatives were not invited to the French peace meeting, and on Sunday Netanyahu reiterated his opposition to indirect peace attempts, blaming the Palestinians for rejecting direct talks.
"I told him that the only way to advance true peace between us and the Palestinians is through direct talks, without preconditions," he said of his meeting with Ayrault.
"Any other attempt just distances peace and gives Palestinians a means of evading dealing with the root of the conflict, which is not recognising the State of Israel," he said.
Sources in Ayrault's entourage said Sunday that the French peace initiative was not aimed at "preventing or bypassing" direct talks between the parties, which Paris believes is the only way to resolve the conflict.
"The problem is there are currently no negotiations," the sources said.
Palestinian foreign minister Riad al-Malki told reporters after Ayrault's meeting with Abbas that unlike the Israelis, they welcomed the French initiative.
"We wish France and its efforts success because the French efforts are the only ones on the ground now, and could eventually result in giving the political process a good push forward at this stage," Malki said.