France welcomes Netanyahu speech as step forward
France welcomed the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech endorsing the creation of a Palestinian state as a step forward.Paris – France welcomed Sunday's speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsing the creation of a Palestinian state as a step forward, but called for a halt of settlement activity.
"I can only welcome the prospect of a Palestinian state outlined by the new Israeli prime minister," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a statement.
In the speech, Netanyahu endorsed for the first time the creation of a Palestinian state.
"The speech represents a step forward from that point of view," Kouchner added.
However, Netanyahu conditioned his support for a Palestinian state upon it being demilitarised and he ruled out a complete halt to Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank.
The hawkish Israeli leader also said the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, a condition Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has long rejected.
Kouchner urged a return to peace talks, which he said first required changes on the ground and confidence-building between the two sides.
"In this regard, France calls for, along with its European partners as well as the United States and the whole international community, an immediate freeze to settlement activity and a reopening of the Gaza Strip."
Israel has sealed the small Palestinian coast enclave off from all but vital aid after the Islamist movement Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organisation, seized power there two years ago.
The French diplomacy chief said he had met with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell on Sunday, with whom he "reaffirmed this common objective" of resuming the long-stalled peace process and creating a Palestinian state.
AFP / Expatica