France hosts Palestinian PM in new peace drive
Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad was due in Paris Thursday to meet French leaders and international peacebrokers on an official visit aimed at boosting flagging efforts for Middle East peace.
Talks were also likely to cover the violent unrest in Egypt, whose long-term ruler Hosni Mubarak is an important supporter of the Palestinian Authority but who is facing mass protests demanding that he quit power.
Fayyad was due to land in Paris at noon and meet French Prime Minister Francois Fillon and later President Nicolas Sarkozy, the French government said.
In the evening he was due for dinner at the foreign ministry to discuss aid to the Palestinians, with representatives from the European Union and the so-called Quartet of powers for Middle East peace.
"This mainly economic conference... is part of plans to create by the end of 2011 a sovereign and independent Palestinian state, in accordance with the declarations of the Quartet," said the ministry's spokesman Bernard Valero.
The top EU foreign representative Catherine Ashton will attend the dinner, along with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere and Gary Grappo, an American who serves as deputy to the Quartet's envoy Tony Blair.
The dinner is to review progress following a 2007 conference at which international donors promised $7.7 billion (5.6 billion euros) in aid to the Palestinians over three years.
"That allowed Salam Fayyad to pursue the reforms he had committed to, particularly in governance, security and financial transparency," said Valero.
Now France and other donors want to see their support rewarded with progress in the drive for Palestinian statehood.
"Europe cannot continue to pay while being kept out of the political process," Sarkozy said last month.
"If the discussions were progressing without Europe, we might just say 'That's the way it is.' But the discussions are not even progressing."
The Palestinians have set September as a target for an agreement with Israel on founding a Palestinian state in the region.
The last attempt to see through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, hosted by the United States, broke down late last year due to a dispute over Jewish settlement-building on Palestinian land.
With Fayyad's visit on Thursday and Friday, France now hopes for a fresh effort to bring them back to the table, with a bigger European role. To achieve that it will also have to reach out to Israel.
One French diplomat told AFP: "The success of the first donors' conference enabled them to show that the Palestinians were not corrupt, lax and incompetent.
"So now we can say without seeming ridiculous that the Palestinian state is ready to be declared at any time," added the diplomat, who asked not to be named.
"What was promised has been done. Now the question is, what political outcome can be drawn from it?"
© 2011 AFP