French put off peace summit, citing John Kerry’s schedule


JERUSALEM (JTA) — A summit of foreign ministers in Paris to discuss the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has been postponed.

French President Francois Hollande announced Tuesday that the meeting of representatives of 20 countries that had been scheduled for May 30 would be postponed since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cannot attend. May 30 is Memorial Day in the United States.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians were invited to the summit.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called on France, which is convening and hosting the summit, to cancel the meeting, saying it gives the Palestinians an excuse to avoid face-to-face negotiations. Netanyahu has called for direct, bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The summit is set to be the run-up to an international peace conference to be held in the French capital this summer that would include Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault met Sunday in Jerusalem with Netanyahu to push the plan, and told reporters after the meeting that the summit would go on despite Israeli objections.

“I know that there is strong opposition. This is not new and it won’t discourage us. The conference will take place,” he said.

Ayrault angered Israel in January for threatening to recognize a Palestinian state if a Paris-hosted conference failed to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Ayrault backtracked on his statements last month, saying the conference would not “automatically” spur any action.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the department is working with France to set a new date.

“We’ve made it clear that the May 30 date originally proposed by the French would not work for the secretary and for his schedule,” Kirby told reporters at his daily briefing. “We’re in discussions right now with the French about any possible alternative date that might better work for the secretary.”

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