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France Postpones Conference on Israeli-Palestinian Peace

  • Chris Hannas

FILE - French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech on constitutional reform at the end of a weekly Cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, March 30, 2016.

FILE - French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech on constitutional reform at the end of a weekly Cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, March 30, 2016.

An international conference focused on restarting the Israeli - Palestinian peace process originally set for May 30 in Paris is being postponed.

French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday the delay is because U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is not available on that date.

Hollande told French radio the talks will happen sometime this summer, and that without the initiative, attacks and settlement building will continue.

May 30 is a national holiday in the United States. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday that Kerry is unavailable for a number of factors, including his already busy travel schedule this month.

US pledge

But Kirby said the U.S. remains interested in moving forward on a two-state solution and "listening to ideas on how to that."

Kerry pledged last month to continue working on the issue during the rest of President Barack Obama's term, which ends in January.

Israeli-Palestinian peace was a top priority for Kerry when he became secretary of state in early 2013. He got the two sides to talk for nine months, but the process broke down in April 2014 with no agreement.

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, Jordan on Saturday, June 29, 2013, after shuttling to Jordan from Jerusalem in the morning.

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, Jordan on Saturday, June 29, 2013, after shuttling to Jordan from Jerusalem in the morning.

Israel objected to a Palestinian unity government that brought together the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, while the Palestinians rejected continued settlement building on lands they want for a future state.

New wave of attacks

Months after the talks ended, a 50-day war in Gaza killed more than 2,100 people, most of them Palestinian civilians. During the past six months there has been a wave of Palestinian attacks that have killed at least 28 people, while Israeli forces have killed about 200 Palestinians, most of whom authorities say were carrying out attacks with guns or knives.

A wounded man is evacuated from the scene of a stabbing attack in Jaffa, a mixed Jewish-Arab part of Tel Aviv, Israel, March 8, 2016.

A wounded man is evacuated from the scene of a stabbing attack in Jaffa, a mixed Jewish-Arab part of Tel Aviv, Israel, March 8, 2016.

France is trying to revive the peace effort by first bringing together envoys from 20 countries, the U.N. and the European Union to set up an agenda for a second round that would involve the Israelis and Palestinians.

"We have no intention to substitute the Israelis or the Palestinians," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Sunday when he met with both sides. "It's only them who can make peace, it's only them who can negotiate and nobody else in their place."

France impartiality questioned

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu questioned France's impartiality, saying its support of a resolution from the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO "casts a shadow" on the fairness of a French-led peace meeting. That resolution, passed last month, repeatedly criticizes Israel for its actions and policies surrounding the al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem, as well as its blockade of Gaza. The document does not mention that Jews revere the holy site as the sacred Temple Mount.

FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, photo, Israeli forces take position during clashes with Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City.

FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, photo, Israeli forces take position during clashes with Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City.

Hollande expressed regret about the wording of the resolution in his Tuesday interview and said future texts will recognize the site's status among different religions.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu says the only path to peace is through direct negotiations without preconditions.

"Any other attempt just distances peace and gives Palestinians a means of evading dealing with the root of the conflict, which is not recognizing the State of Israel," he said.

Palestinian leaders have welcomed the French effort. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said he hopes the international meeting can set up a peaceful settlement.

"We support the French peace initiative, including an international conference in order to break this deadlock," he said.

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