JERUSALEM, May 23 (UPI) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a French proposal for a Middle East peace conference Monday, suggesting instead direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Meeting with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in Jerusalem, Netanyahu urged that his counterpart drop his offer to host a summit conference of at least 20 countries in Paris, beginning June 3, to attempt to restart the Middle East peace process. Valls arrived Sunday in Israel, and also is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank, on his trip.
"Direct negotiations are the only way to achieve peace," Netanyahu said. "We will not achieve it through a U.N.-style international conference, or diktats from the international community regarding our security. Peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations, in which the Palestinians have to decide whether they recognize the state of Israel or continue to hope that it will vanish. We want two states for two peoples and a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state."
Netanyahu added he is prepared to discuss all matters pertinent to the peace process, as long as it occurs at a face-to-face meeting with Abbas. Israeli and Palestinian leaders have signaled that neither intends to participate in the Paris conference.
The Palestinian Authority has preferred an international peace process, largely because many countries seek Israel's return to pre-1967 borders and a halt to Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel has said turning to the international community allows the Palestinians to bypass talks of substance.
"If you want to advance peace, help us open direct negotiations with Abbas. There is another initiative that could take place in Paris that could be called a French initiative. The difference would be that I sit alone, directly, with President Abbas in Paris ... I am prepared to clear my schedule and fly to Paris this very week. The offer is open. I hope you pick up the gauntlet and that the Palestinians pick up the gauntlet."