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Palestine agrees to Middle East peace talks in France - but will the USA and Israel be there?

Israel has not replied to the French invitation as hopes of a Palestinian state being recognised by the United Nations appear to be floundering.

A 'V' for victory sign in front of a Palestinian flag (File photo)
A 'V' for victory sign in front of a Palestinian flag (File photo)
Image: KOSTAS TSIRONIS/AP/Press Association Images

THE PALESTINIAN GOVERNMENT has today accepted a French invitation to attend a conference in Paris aimed at reviving peace talks with Israel.

It comes as their strategy to bypass negotiations and seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state appeared to be unraveling.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians were prepared to go to Paris and were waiting for Israeli and American responses.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe extended the invitation earlier this week in a visit to the region, saying the conference could take place later this month.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has said that he would support Palestine’s quest for statehood unless peace talks with Israel resume by September.

Israel has not replied to Juppe’s invitation and had no comment Saturday on the Palestinian acceptance, which came with no conditions attached.

The Palestinians have refused to return to the bargaining table for months because Israel has rejected their demand to halt all settlement construction on lands they claim for a future state.

Palestinian officials said they had no high hopes for a French-led conference but would attend in an effort to restart talks that broke down in late 2008 and revived only briefly this past September before collapsing over settlement construction.

Historically, the US and not Europe, has taken the lead in trying to wrest an agreement from Israel and the Palestinians.

Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama tried to entice the Palestinians to resume talks by asserting in a high-profile policy speech that Israel’s boundaries before the 1967 Mideast war should be a starting point for the talks, with mutually agreed land swaps.

The Palestinians had long sought an explicit statement to this effect from Washington.

But they were disappointed by the peace blueprint Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined later in a speech before the US Congress, dismissing it as a non-starter because it disregards many of their key demands.

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Instead, they had hoped to count on growing international support for bypassing Israel in their quest for statehood.

But a top UN official undercut that strategy last week when he said there was no way a Palestinian state could become a member of the UN without a recommendation from the Security Council.

That is unlikely because Obama has hinted strongly that the US would exercise its veto power on the council to block such a move.

On Saturday, a senior Palestinian official said Abbas has concluded that a statehood push at the UN would not advance the Palestinians’ cause.

- AP

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