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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Statement at his Meeting with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls Photo by: Kobi Gideon, GPO
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Statement at his Meeting with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls

23 May 2016

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, today (Monday, 23 May 2016), issued the following statement at his meeting with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls:

 

"Prime Minister Valls, Manuel, welcome.

 

We've known each other for quite some time, and I know of your friendship to Israel and your commitment to Franco-Israeli relations, your stalwart position against anti-Semitism and that of Francois Hollande.

 

We spent some time in a synagogue in Paris after the awful attacks that were there. We felt a great solidarity, as well as of course the solidarity that you have felt from our people in the subsequent terror attacks in Paris.

 

So in this spirit, I welcome you and I also want to express my appreciation for your statement saying that France's UNESCO vote was a mistake, that France recognizes the Jewish people's historic connection to the land of Israel. I have to be honest: I wrote a letter to Francois Hollande and expressed my shock that France had voted for a decision denying the Jewish people's link to the Temple Mount, which spans thousands of years. And the reason that this vote was so troubling for us is that it implies that the Jewish people have no right to be here. And I think that remains the core of the conflict, the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to have a nation-state in their ancestral homeland. I hope you encourage other nations that voted for this outrageous resolution to follow your lead and admit it was an error. And of course, the most important thing is that it doesn't happen again.

 

Now, though we have some disagreements on the best way to achieve peace, I deeply appreciate your commitment to pursue it. I know how much you care about ending the terrible violence that has plagued our region for far too long, and I want to thank you and President Hollande for your commitment to peace.

 

We share the same goals: peace, two states for two peoples, an end to war. This weekend you said that direct talks are very difficult right now. And you're right. They are, but they're the only way to proceed towards peace. Peace just does not get achieved through international conferences, UN-style. It doesn't get to fruition through international diktats or committees from countries around the world who are sitting and seeking to decide our fate and our security when they have no direct stake in it.

 

Peace is achieved through direct negotiations between the parties and in direct negotiations, the Palestinian leadership must face a stark choice and this choice is simple: recognize the Jewish state or continue educating your people that one day Israel will be gone. It will create a Palestinian state not to live side-by-side next to Israel, but to eliminate Israel.

 

So we want two states for two peoples, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. And I urge you not to let the Palestinian leadership shirk this difficult choice. The Palestinian leadership doesn't see the French initiative as an inducement to compromise, but rather as a way to avoid it. In fact, the Palestinian Prime Minister, Hamdallah, let slip the other day his hope for an imposed timetable, rather than a negotiated peace.

 

I can tell you from long experience, I know how hard direct negotiations are, but this is how we achieve peace with Jordan and before that this is how we achieve peace with Egypt. And both peace treaties, achieved through direct negotiations, have stood the test of time. They've weathered many, many storms. And many lives have been saved because we sat around the table with former enemies directly, without preconditions, and we made difficult decisions. Prime Minister Valls, Manuel, I am prepared to make difficult decisions. And if you really want to help launch peace, then help us launch direct negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas. And that's why I would gladly accept a different French initiative, and here's the one important change. This initiative can still take place in Paris, because that would be a marvelous place to sign a peace accord. It's a marvelous place anyway. It can still be called the French initiative, because you would host this genuine effort for peace, but here's the difference: I will sit alone directly with President Abbas in the Élysée Palace, or anywhere else that you choose. Every difficult issue will be on the table: mutual recognition, incitement, borders, refugees and yes, settlements – everything.

 

There is no issue too complex to solve if both sides are willing to talk to each other. And I am more than willing; I am eager. I was injured in battle; I lost a brother; I lost many friends in battle. Israel wants nothing more than peace. And I hope you encourage President Abbas to accept this French initiative: direct negotiations without preconditions, between the Israeli prime minister, the Palestinian president in Paris.

 

I'm ready to clear my schedule and fly to Paris tomorrow – well, I think tomorrow we're expanding the government, but the day after tomorrow, Manuel. And it's an open offer. I will clear my calendar, and I hope that this is taken up by you and by the Palestinians. Israelis and Palestinians have suffered too much. It's time to sit down together and work out our differences so that peace may reign at long last. And in the spirit of peace, I welcome you to Jerusalem. The word Jerusalem means city of peace. Welcome."