French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday an international conference due on May 30 in Paris to revive peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis had been postponed but would take place this summer.
With U.S. efforts to broker a two-state accord in tatters and Washington focused on its November presidential election, Paris has lobbied countries to hold a conference before then to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is not available on that date, Hollande told Europe 1 radio.
“Kerry cannot come on May 30. It’s postponed, it will take place, it will take place in the course of the summer,” he said in an interview.
“This initiative is necessary because if nothing happens, if there is no strong French initiative, then colonization, attacks, terrorist attacks and several conflicts are going to continue,” he said.
“We’re in discussions right now with the French about any possible alternative date that might better work for the secretary,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday, though he added that Kerry’s agenda is currently “jammed.”
“We are going to create, with all actors and neighboring countries, the parameters which will allow Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table,” stressed Hollande in the interview.
Paris plans to host a ministerial meeting of 20 countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, as a first step to discuss the peace process. Israel and the Palestinians have not been invited.
Hollande also voiced regret about a resolution passed by the United Nations cultural body UNESCO last month that failed to acknowledge Jewish ties to Jerusalem’s holiest site and caused anger in Israel.
“There was an unfortunate amendment put forward by the Jordanians … which blurred this text,” Hollande said of the decision which concerns the site known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif or the al-Aqsa compound and to Jews as Temple Mount.
The resolution only used the Arabic terms for the site.
“I promise to be extremely vigilant when the next resolution is put forward in October,” he said. “I will look at it personally. It’s not possible to call into question the fact that these holy sites belong to three religions,” he added.
Also Tuesday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared his support for the French proposal to hold the peace conference.
He called on Israel and the Palestinians to seize what he described as a “realistic” and “great” opportunity to reach a peaceful settlement to their decades-old conflict.
Egypt’s president said the Israelis and Palestinians need look no farther than the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty to see the positive outcome of peacemaking.
El-Sissi added that Cairo is prepared to “make every effort” to contribute to an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.