RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian leaders on Saturday accepted a French invitation to attend a conference in Paris aimed at reviving peace talks with Israel, as their strategy to bypass negotiations and seek U.N. 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 last week in a visit to the region, saying the conference could take place this month and would use Israel's boundaries prior to the 1967 war as a starting point for talks on borders. Israel would be loath to accept such a proposal and has not replied to Juppe's invitation. Israel 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. At the same time, they have been preparing to ask the U.N. General Assembly in September to recognize a Palestinian state, with or without a peace deal.
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 Israeli settlement construction.
Historically, the United States, not Europe, has taken the lead in trying to wrest an agreement from Israel and the Palestinians, and the Obama administration has been cool to the French proposal. U.S. officials say they have privately discouraged it, but the administration has not taken a public position on the conference. State Department spokesman Mark Toner noted on Friday that Juppe would meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday in Washington. "The secretary looks forward to meeting with him and they'll discuss ways forward," Toner said.
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 the starting point for negotiations on future borders, with mutually agreed land swaps that would let Israel hold on to major West Bank settlement blocks.
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 U.S. Congress, dismissing it as a nonstarter because it disregards many of the Palestinians' key demands.