Abbas heads to Paris seeking statehood support

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Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas heads to Paris on Wednesday to seek advice and support from European leaders on the potential creation of a Palestinian state this year.

The trip comes with talks between Israel and the Palestinians still in deep freeze, and as the Palestinians seem increasingly determined to seek United Nations recognition for a unilateral declaration of statehood.

In an interview with AFP last week, Abbas said he would be asking his French counterpart President Nicolas Sarkozy "for his advice" on the best approach to seeking recognition for an independent Palestinian state.

"We are friends, so he can be sincere with us and to talk to us openly," Abbas said of the French leader, who he is expected to meet on Thursday.

The Palestinian leader's trip to France is part of a diplomatic swing that has already taken him in recent weeks to Britain, Denmark and Russia, and will be followed in May with a visit to Germany.

It comes at a time when the Palestinian leadership seems increasingly committed to pressing for UN recognition of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, to include the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.

But that course of action is fiercely opposed by Israel, and has run into strong resistance from the United States.

Washington has also expressed opposition to a European plan to offer a new initiative defining the "parameters" of a final peace deal -- particularly with regard to security and borders -- in the hope of kick-starting peace talks.

In a bid to avoid further discussion of the plan, which is reportedly being championed by Britain, France and Germany, Washington called off a meeting of the peacemaking Quartet scheduled for this month, diplomats said.

The meeting postponement, which Abbas called unfortunate, is the latest US measure to disappoint the Palestinians, who had hoped to garner Washington's support for a UN resolution condemning settlement building earlier this year.

American diplomats acknowledged that the measure largely reflected US policy on Israeli settlement building, which Washington has condemned, but the United States still vetoed the resolution at the Security Council.

European nations, by contrast, voted in favour of the resolution and afterwards also issued a statement stressing their criticism of Israel's settlement policy.

The Palestinians have regularly drawn attention to US President Barack Obama's pledge to seek the creation of a Palestinian state by September of this year.

"If we go to September without any results, of course we will ask the American president to fulfil his promises," Abbas said.

"He said that he wishes to see a state with full partnership in the United Nations. This is a promise from the American president."

But increasingly the Palestinian leadership has found more support for its position among European nations, and Abbas praised the statement made by Britain, France and Germany after the UN vote on the settlement resolution.

"All settlement activity, including in east Jerusalem, should cease immediately," the statement said, calling for a return to talks "on the basis of clear parameters" with the goal of a deal based on the 1967 borders and a "just, fair and agreed solution to the (Palestinian) refugee question."

"That statement is for us very wonderful and we are satisfied with it," Abbas said last week, adding that the Palestinians would be willing to return to talks based on the parameters outlined in the European statement.

Abbas's leadership has also received a significant boost in recent weeks with assessments from the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, deeming his Palestinian Authority ready to govern a state.

© 2011 AFP

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