June 20, 2015 / 5:44 PM / 2 years ago

Inaction on peace risks setting Israeli-Palestinian conflict 'ablaze': France

CAIRO (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned Israel and the Palestinians on Saturday that the stalemate in the peace process risked setting the conflict “ablaze” and urged both sides to return to the negotiating table quickly.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius attends a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri (not pictured) at the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, June 20, 2015, after his meeting with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to discuss the situation in the Middle East. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

U.S.-led efforts to broker a so-called two-state solution collapsed in April 2014 and leaders on both sides have since been weakened politically. But with the region’s crises worsening and Washington reassessing its options on relations with Israel, France sees a narrow window to resume negotiations.

“We have to do the maximum so that the two sides restart negotiations,” Fabius told reporters after meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. “We think that by doing nothing there will be the twin risk of stalemate and setting (the conflict) ablaze.”

Fabius was on a two-day trip to the Middle East to promote a French-led initiative that would see the peace process relaunched through an international support group comprising Arab states, the European Union and U.N. Security Council members.

These states would then work to pressure both sides to make compromises that neither wants to make alone.

Talks would be rubber-stamped by a U.N. Security Council resolution setting the negotiating parameters and establishing a time period, possibly 18 months, to complete talks.

“It’s been 40 years ... we need to adapt the method so that the Arabs, the Europeans, the Americans can accompany things,” Fabius said.

“What is important is to get these talks restarted. Israel’s security has to be assured but also the rights of the Palestinians have to be recognized and, in that regard, when settlements move ahead, that pushes back a two-state solution.”

Speaking at the same news conference, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said he supported efforts to revive the talks given the regional geopolitical situation.

After meeting key Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo, Fabius said they had agreed to press ahead with the initiative and work toward creating the international contact group.

“If there is an agreement ... then this could manifest itself in September,” he said.

Fabius was due to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Sunday.

The trip comes before a final round of nuclear talks between major powers and Iran in late June. Washington has said it will not discuss the Middle East process until the Iran situation is clear, but has indicated it may be receptive to a new U.N. resolution.

Israeli officials have called the French initiative counterproductive, saying that only direct dialogue between the two sides can resolve the conflict.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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