French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who recently floated the idea of an international Mideast peace conference and threatened to recognize a Palestinian state if that does not get off the ground, announced on Wednesday he was stepping down.
Fabius’s move was expected, and is part of a wider cabinet reshuffle by President Francois Hollande before next year’s presidential elections in which he hopes to improve his chances of winning a second term.
Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Prime Minister’s Office had any comment. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has not hidden his opposition to the latest French proposal, which he has said amounts to a disincentive to the Palestinians to negotiate, because – why should they enter talks if they know they can get French recognition without it.
Fabius reportedly said on Wednesday that the French initiative is made up of two stages.
In the first stage, there will be a meeting of international players without the participation of Israel or the Palestinians, and in the second stage – scheduled for the summer – there will be another international meeting with the sides.
“It is difficult, but France will not give up on the plan,” Fabius was reported to have said in a meeting with foreign journalists.
While Jerusalem had no comment about Fabius stepping down – he will be named president of France’s constitutional court – there was little expectation that his disappearance spelled the end of the initiative.
Fabius would not have publicly initiated such a plan, said one source in Jerusalem, had he not received Hollande’s backing. Jerusalem, however, has still not received any written proposal.
Fabius, and the French initiative, were at the center of dueling tweets this week between France’s envoy to the US, Gerard Araud, and Israel’s ambassador, Ron Dermer.
On Monday, Araud, relating to the Syrian negotiations, quoted Fabius as saying: “There can’t be a political negotiation when one side is murdering the other.”
This prompted Dermer to tweet in response, “Hmmm. Wonder if that wisdom will one day be applied to when Jews are being murdered in Israel.”
This led Araud to tweet the following day: “Israel/Palestine. So predictable that any pretext leads one side to declare that the other one is evil.”
This was followed by yet another from Araud: “Israel/ Palestine. Feeding the passion instead of analyzing the situation from both sides is a good way to escape the real issues.”
Dermer did not respond.
In a related development, the Quartet principals – US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – will meet and discuss the Israeli-Palestinian issue over the weekend in Munich on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
Quartet representatives met in Oslo on Wednesday and issued a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms all acts of terror and violence against civilians.”
The envoys “also expressed concern about current trends on the ground that pose a threat to the two-state solution and reiterated the call for concrete steps that resume the transition contemplated by the Oslo Accords.”
Meanwhile, diplomatic discussions are taking place between Israel and the EU to improve relations strained following the bloc’s decision in November to label products from the settlements.
Haaretz reported that the EU’s deputy secretary general for the External Action Service, Helga Schmid, met in Israel with top officials last week to work out understandings that would enable a “reset” in EU-Israel relations.
Following the settlement- product labeling decision, Israel announced a “reassessment” of its ties with the EU on the diplomatic process and suspended talks with it on everything regarding that issue.
The current round of talks stemmed from a meeting Netanyahu held in Davos last month with Mogherini.