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France postpones Middle East peace conference to June

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PARIS: French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday an international conference due in late May in Paris to help relaunch peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis would be postponed to ensure the United States would attend.

With U.S. efforts to broker a two-state accord in tatters and Washington focused on its November presidential election, Paris has lobbied major powers to hold a conference that would set the groundwork to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table before the end of the year.

Paris has grown frustrated over the absence of movement toward a two-state solution since the collapse of U.S.-brokered talks in 2014 and argues that letting the status quo prevail was, as one French diplomat, called it “waiting for a powder keg to explode”.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had proposed May 30 for the talks, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is not available on that date, Hollande told Europe 1 radio.

“John 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.

“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 added.

A French diplomatic source said the meeting would take place before Ramadan, which begins around June 6, and that the United States had made some constructive proposals to the meeting’s agenda. He declined to elaborate.

The gathering of ministers is set to include the Middle East Quartet – which comprises the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – the Arab League, the U.N. Security Council and about 20 countries, without Israeli or Palestinian participation.

Diplomats say that meeting will package all economic incentives and other guarantees that various countries have offered in previous years to create an agenda for an autumn peace conference.

Ayrault went to Israel and the Palestinian Territories on Sunday to sell the intuitive to the parties concerned.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Ayrault that he remained opposed to the initiative.

He questioned Paris’ impartiality after it voted for a resolution passed by the United Nations cultural body UNESCO that failed to acknowledge Jewish ties to Jerusalem’s holiest site and caused anger in Israel..

Hollande voiced regret about that resolution.

“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.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi promised Israel on Tuesday warmer ties if it accepted efforts to resume peace talks with the Palestinians, urging Israeli leaders not to waste an opportunity to bring security and hope to a troubled region.

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