Hollande Calls for Halt to Israeli Settlements

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French President Hollande with Israel’s Netanyahu
French President Hollande with Israel’s Netanyahu

RAMALLAH, Nov 19 — French President Francois Hollande has called on Israel to halt settlement building on occupied territory, saying it hampers chances for a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Israel has announced plans for thousands of new settler homes since US-brokered peace negotiations with the Palestinians began in July after a three-year break. “For the sake of peace and to reach a deal, France calls for the total and definitive end to settlement building because it compromises the two-state solution,” Hollande said at a news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian negotiators have offered to resign in protest against the settlement drive. Abbas reaffirmed at the news conference the talks with Israel would continue for the full nine-month period agreed with the United States.

Hollande held talks on Sunday with Israeli leaders in occupied Jerusalem. He met Abbas in Ramallah, the Palestinian seat of government in the occupied West Bank.

The chief Palestinian negotiator says the Palestinians will participate in peace talks with Israel for the planned nine months, despite crises over Israel’s settlement expansion on lands they want for their state. Paris is one of the biggest international donors to Abbas’s Palestinian Authority which rules the West Bank, providing some 50 million euros per year through the European Union and various development programs. Israel’s ongoing settlement building, which has threatened repeatedly to bring down the talks, is likely to be the dominant issue at their meeting.

However, Abbas told AFP on Sunday that the Palestinians were committed to seeing out the full nine months of talks as agreed with Washington — a deadline which expires in late April. “We have committed to continue the negotiations for nine months, regardless of what happens on the ground,” he told AFP in an exclusive interview.

France, he said, expects Israel to make “gestures” over its construction of settlements on land the Palestinians want for a future state, although he did not indicate what that might involve. “Settlement building will not make reaching an agreement easy, settlement building is complicating what could be a final agreement,” he said on Sunday. “If you want peace, you need to have gestures towards peace.”

But France was also expecting “efforts” from the Palestinians. “It is clear that this will require efforts from the Palestinians as a number of Israeli settlements will remain,” a member of Hollande’s entourage said. Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, now under the control of Abbas’s Hamas Islamist rivals, with East Jerusalem as its capital. They fear Israel’s settlements will deny them a viable country. –IINA

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