Ma'an News Agency
June 2, 2011 - 12:00am

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe arrived in Jerusalem late Wednesday on an "exploratory mission" aimed at reviving the stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians through a conference in Paris.

"We are convinced ... that maintaining the status quo in the Middle East would be a serious mistake. Everything is changing in this region, in Egypt, in Syria, so we must move to regain the initiative," Juppe said after meeting President Mahmoud Abbas in Rome.

Shortly after the meeting Juppe left for his first trip to Israel and Palestine, bearing invitations to a peace conference in Paris in late June, and is on "an exploratory mission" looking at "the possibilities of finding a path," to peace, a French official said on condition of anonymity.

In Rome, Juppe stressed that the talks would be based on the 1967 borders, the recognition of Israel and its right to live in peace and security.

"Perhaps at a later point of the talks we can address the difficult question of refugees and Jerusalem," he said.

The Palestinians' key negotiator Saeb Erakat, who was present at the meeting between Juppe and Abbas, said that the priority for Palestinians was to restart talks with Israel.

"We hope that the Israeli government can announce its acceptance of two states on the basis of '67 borders," he said. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had rejected the suggestion, despite participation in earlier talks which used the demarcation line as a starting point.

"If it cannot do that then... we are left with no alternative but to go to the (UN) Security Council for admittance," he said.

"The deadline is September. Something absolutely must happen by September."

The talks have been on hold since September 2010, when they ground to a halt over Israeli settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land.

"We French -- and with us the whole of Europe -- are convinced... that maintaining the status quo in the Middle East would be an error," he said.

"If nothing happens by September, France ... has already indicated that it would draw its own conclusions," he said, referencing French President Nicolas Sarkozy's comments last month in which he said France would "assume its responsibilities on the central issue of recognising a Palestinian state."

Without a breakthrough in the peace process by September, Abbas is determined to seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations, a possibility that divides the international community.

On his arrival in Jerusalem, Juppe was met by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whom Juppe told in Paris recently that "the status quo is untenable" in the Middle East.

On Thursday, Juppe will meet Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank city of Ramallah, before holding talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the parents of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who also holds French citizenship and who has been held hostage for five years in the Gaza Strip, following the failure of mediation attempts to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for his freedom.


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