- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that the French initiative to hold an international peace conference is “baffling” and bound for failure, casting doubt on the first push for peace between Israelis and Palestinians in nearly two years.

France has for months been preparing to hold a conference that would bring together the two parties and their American, European and Arab partners in order to revive the peace process. France has warned that if its peace efforts fail, it will recognize a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu said this threat “ensures that the conference will fail, because if the Palestinians know their claim will be accepted in Europe…they will not do anything.”

The Palestinians welcomed the proposal, but the conference does not seem to be generating much enthusiasm from Israel or the international community, which is struggling to cope with far deadlier Middle East conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

Palestinian official Ahmad Majdalani said French officials had not discussed specifics about their country’s plan. Still, he said the Palestinians support the initiative. He said he expected an international group would be formed after the conference to support the negotiations.

A French diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the details of the proposal have not been publicized, said his country hopes to hold the conference this summer.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said France’s ambassador to Israel met a ministry official Tuesday but declined to provide details or discuss whether Israel would participate.

Washington, which has traditionally acted as a peace broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has not taken a public position on the French plan and appears to be waiting to hear more details.

The last peace negotiations, mediated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, collapsed in April 2014, and the period since has been fraught with conflict. A war between Gaza militants and Israel later that year killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis, and there is no end in sight to the current round of deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence that erupted last fall.

Israel says the current violence is fueled by a Palestinian campaign of lies and incitement. The Palestinians say it springs from frustrations over nearly half a century of Israeli occupation and failed peace efforts.

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