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French President Emmanuel Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a news conference to make a joint declaration at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 16, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe(reuters_tickers)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has doubts about U.S. Middle East peace efforts, according to a transcript of a conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz obtained a transcript of part of the talks Netanyahu held with Macron when they met for the first time in Paris on Sunday.
Told by Macron that France supports U.S. President Donald Trump's efforts to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to negotiations, Netanyahu replied:
"It will be difficult to push forward quickly with the American initiative. I’m not sure that Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) can deliver on his commitments, for internal political reasons."
Israeli officials confirmed the gist of the transcript, which was in French, while French officials did not immediately comment.
Netanyahu said Israel had every intention of working with the Americans but would prefer a different approach.
"I’d like a parallel process with the Arab countries, at the same time as the process with the Palestinians," he said, referring to the idea of forging a deal with Arab states along the lines of the Saudi peace initiative.
The Saudi initiative, first put forward in 2002, would offer Israel recognition by the Arab world and the "normalization" of relations in exchange for a full withdrawal from the territory Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war, including East Jerusalem.
Netanyahu has expressed tentative support for parts of the initiative, but there are many caveats on the Israeli side, including how to resolve the complex Palestinian refugee issue.
The Palestinians are opposed to any Israeli attempt to cut them out of discussions, saying any peace with Arab states has to come via peace with the Palestinians first.
Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdainah, said the Palestinians support Trump's peace efforts, adding: "What is needed is not to waste time."
Asked by Macron what he thought of the French initiative, proposed by former president Francois Hollande late in his term and based around an international peace conference, Netanyahu said:
"I am against. It is not a good initiative."
The last round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014. Trump has pledged to try to revive them, calling Middle East peace the "ultimate deal".
He has received both Netanyahu and Abbas in the White House and visited the region in May. He appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as his chief negotiator, and a company lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, as the main go-between.
Palestinians want to establish an independent state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
In 2005, Israel pulled out of Gaza and the enclave is now governed by the Islamist Hamas movement. Israel continues to occupy the West Bank, where the Palestinians have limited self-rule, and East Jerusalem.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Luke Baker and Robin Pomeroy)