Negotiations still key to Mideast peace: Chirac

14th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 14, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac appeared Wednesday to reject a plan by visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert unilaterally to set Israel's borders in the West Bank, calling instead for talks to resume with the Palestinians.

PARIS, June 14, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac appeared Wednesday to reject a plan by visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert unilaterally to set Israel's borders in the West Bank, calling instead for talks to resume with the Palestinians.

Speaking as he headed into talks with the Israeli leader, Chirac told reporters the aim of two states living peacefully side-by-side, "implies a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority".

France and the European Union were ready to help achieve that end, he said.

Olmert, who is on his first visit to Europe since his election in March, is trying to sell a plan to set Israel's borders with or without agreement from the Palestinians if he is unable to restart negotiations.

Though France has repeatedly said it would oppose any unilateral settlement, Olmert said Monday he would seek to convince Chirac to become a "partner" in his plan.

In a brief statement before their meeting, Olmert vowed to make "all the efforts" necessary for talks to resume with the Palestinians.

But he repeated Israel's three pre-conditions: "an end to terrorism, the respect of all agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, and the recognition of Israel".

The three principles have been rejected by the government led by Hamas, the main Islamist movement in the Palestinian territories, effectively paralysing the peace process.

Tensions escalated further between Israel and the Palestinians last week following the death of eight Palestinian civilians in an explosion on a beach in the northern Gaza Strip -- which prompted Hamas to end an 18-month truce.

Designed to prevent a "stalemate" if it proves impossible to resume talks, Olmert's so-called "realignment plan" would see Israel uproot 70,000 settlers from the West Bank while cementing its hold on housing blocs where most of the quarter of a million settlers live.

US President George W. Bush has called the plan "bold" but has also told Olmert that he must first exhaust all efforts to reach an agreement with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

The Israeli prime minister suggested following his talks in London Monday that his British counterpart Tony Blair had also tacitly backed his proposal, which has received a cool reception from some Arab leaders.

Blair said he favoured a negotiated settlement, but accepted that talks could only resume if Israel's conditions were met -- and that Israel would seek otherwise to "unlock" the situation.

Olmert and Chirac were also expected to discuss the resumption of hundreds of millions of dollars of Western aid to the Palestinians -- suspended as part an economic boycott over the refusal by Hamas to recognise Israel.

The suspension of aid has brought the hard-up Palestinian Authority to the brink of bankruptcy and is thought to have fuelled an unprecedented upsurge in deadly factional violence in the Palestinian territories.

Chirac has called for a solution to be found "quickly" to channel funds to the Palestinian Authority, bypassing Hamas, to pay civil servants' salaries -- but Israel is against the payment of anything other than humanitarian aid.

Following his talks with Chirac, Olmert was to meet Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.

He was also set to inaugurate a monument to French nationals who helped Jews escape capture by the occupying Nazi forces during World War II.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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