Kouchner takes French peacemaking drive to Mideast

16th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner heads to the Middle East this week, hoping to dissuade Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas from abandoning the peace process and convince Israel to engage in it.

PARIS - Kouchner will visit Israel and the West Bank on Tuesday and Wednesday after President Nicolas Sarkozy unsuccessfully tried his hand at reviving the faltering peace effort with high-level talks last week.

French officials said Kouchner will not be bringing any new proposals for breaking the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians over conditions for re-starting peace talks.

The foreign minister last week said it was crucial for Abbas to reverse his decision to not seek re-election in January.

"I will press Mahmud Abbas to obstinately continue his work for peace, that is, for the creation of a Palestinian state," Kouchner said.

"Unfortunately, the road to peace is now blocked," he said.

Sarkozy spoke by phone with Abbas on Thursday after meeting for nearly two hours with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris the previous day.

But there was no breakthrough in efforts to re-start peace talks, which remain blocked by Israel's refusal to halt settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The Palestinians say a freeze on Jewish settlements is a condition for returning to the negotiating table and have been bitterly disappointed by Washington's failure to convince Israel to agree to the demand.

After meeting with Sarkozy on Friday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad charged that Netanyahu was not serious about making peace.

"What we lack is an Israeli partner who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result," he declared.

There have been reports that Sarkozy offered to host a Middle East peace conference in Paris to jumpstart the process but without any prospect for advancing negotiations, such a high-profile meeting appeared futile.

Still, France is celebrating peace gains elsewhere in the region, in Lebanon where a new unity government is up and running after four months of difficult negotiations with the Hezbollah-led opposition.

Sarkozy is due to hold talks in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday and Wednesday that are expected to touch on the way forward to break the impasse in the Middle East peace process.

During his trip, Kouchner will sign an agreement with the Palestinian Red Crescent to support its relief work in the Palestinian territories.

But the minister will not tour a Gaza hospital rebuilt with French funds after Israel reportedly opposed the visit, fearing it would draw attention to allegations of Israeli atrocities during the Gaza war.

Kouchner will also be meeting with a host of top Israeli and Palestinian officials including Israeli President Shimon Peres and opposition leader Tzipi Livni.

Philippe Rater/AFP/Expatica

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