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France pushes Israel for peace breakthrough

Published on May 05, 2011

France was to push Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a breakthrough in Middle East peace talks Thursday, after warning it may go ahead and recognise a Palestinian state this year.

Netanyahu was due to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to lobby him in his campaign against a unity pact signed by the two main Palestinian factions, which he has described as a threat to peace and security.

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 in stalemate, as they have been since last September.

France may also 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.

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

Meanwhile Palestinian premier Mahmud Abbas was due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Thursday afternoon. Germany has stressed it will not recognise a Palestinian state without Israel’s acceptance.

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 called Abbas’s deal with the militant group “a tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism” and said “the fate of the Middle East and the fate of peace hangs in the balance.”

His meeting with the British leader brought mixed results. Cameron agreed a Palestinian caretaker government to be formed after Wednesday’s reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas must meet international conditions but was unconvinced that the accord threatened peace.

Netanyahu was due to meet with Sarkozy at 5:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Thursday. A statement from Sarkozy’s office said the meeting would focus on “a true relaunching of the peace process”.

France wants to convince Netanyahu that “the status quo is untenable”, Juppe said.

One French official who asked not be named said France hoped the United States’ success in killing Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden would give it momentum to revive its flagging Middle East peace efforts.

Netanyahu is lobbying for support ahead of the UN General Assembly in September, when Palestinian self-declaration could be recognised.

US-brokered peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in September broke down over Israeli settlement activity but the Palestinians are standing by a target date of September for declaring an independent state.

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.”

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 White House said US President Barack Obama will also host Netanyahu for talks on May 20.