Israeli PM seeks French support in Hamas fight

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his campaign against a unity pact between the two main Palestinian factions to Paris on Thursday, where he hopes to lobby a sceptical French leadership.

Netanyahu travelled to France a day after meeting his British counterpart David Cameron in London as Israel also sought to convince European leaders to oppose UN recognition of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state.

A two-hour dinner with Cameron brought mixed results, with Cameron's office agreeing that a Palestinian caretaker government to be formed after Wednesday's reconciliation deal between the Fatah and Hamas factions in Cairo must meet international conditions.

"Prime Minister Cameron said that any new Palestinian government must reject violence, recognise Israel's right to exist and engage in the peace process, and that Britain would judge it by its actions," it said in a statement.

But London was seemingly unconvinced by Netanyahu's claim that the inclusion of Hamas nominees in Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's administration was "a tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism."

"We hope that Palestinian unity between Fatah and Hamas will be a step forward," a spokesman for Cameron said.

Fatah leader Abbas buried the hatchet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal at a ceremony in the Egyptian capital on Wednesday, ending a nearly four-year feud between the two factions.

Netanhayu insisted that Hamas's recent condemnation of the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US forces proved that bringing the group into mainstream Palestinian politics would jeopardise the chances of peace.

"I think the fate of the Middle East and the fate of peace hangs in the balance," he added.

That message is unlikely to convince French President Nicolas Sarkozy when Netanyahu meets him later Thursday to lobby supprt ahead of the UN General Assembly in September, when Palestinian self-declaration could be recognised.

Sarkozy implied in an interview with L'Express news weekly on Wednesday that France could recognise a Palestinian declaration of statehood if peace talks remain stalemated, as they have been since last September.

The Palestinians have insisted they will not talk while Israel builds settlements on land they want for a future state, while Israel has attracted fierce international criticism for its settlement policy.

"If the peace process resumes during the summer, France will say that you have to leave the protagonists to talk without forcing the calendar," Sarkozy told L'Express.

"If, on the other hand, the peace process is still a dead letter in September, France will assume its responsibilities on the central issue of recognising a Palestinian state."

France may turn a donors' conference on a future Palestinian state set for June into a political meeting to relaunch peace efforts, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Wednesday.

A senior Israeli political source said in London on Wednesday that Netanyahu believed both Britain and France were still assessing their positions and this week's visits come at the right time to seek to influence their thinking.

But according to Juppe, it is Netanyahu who needs to change his outlook.

"How much will we be able to get him to evolve? You know the man, his character, his determination," he said.

The Israeli source said that while it seeemed likely a unilateral declaration would garner a majority in the General Assembly, western leaders could still influence the final shape of a resolution.

"We need the leading powers, particularly the West," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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