x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

France demands ‘complete halt’ to Israeli settlement construction

French president makes unequivocal demand for Israel to stop building on land seized in the 1967 war.

Francois Hollande (centre) arrives at the Church of St Anne in the Old City of Jerusalem, in a three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, his first to the region since he took office. Heidi Levine / EPA
Francois Hollande (centre) arrives at the Church of St Anne in the Old City of Jerusalem, in a three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, his first to the region since he took office. Heidi Levine / EPA

RAMALLAH // The French president Francois Hollande yesterday demanded a “complete halt” to Israeli settlement construction on land the Palestinians want for a future state.

After talks with his Palestinian counterpart Mahmud Abbas, Mr Hollande made an unequivocal demand for Israel to stop building on land seized in the 1967 War.

“For peace and to reach an agreement, France demands a full and complete halt to settlement activity because it undermines the two-state solution,” he said on his first official visit to the Palestinian territories.

“Settlement activity complicates the negotiations and makes it difficult to achieve a two-state solution.”

His statement stood in sharp contrast to remarks made on Sunday after he met the Israeli president Shimon Peres when Mr Hollande said Paris expected Israel to make “gestures” on the issue of settlement activity to advance peace negotiations.

Since the talks resumed in late July, ending a hiatus of nearly three years, Israel has announced thousands of new settler homes, angering the Palestinians and taking the talks close to collapse.

A previous round of talks in 2010 fell apart just weeks after it began in a bitter row over Israeli construction on land the Palestinians want for a future state.

Welcoming Mr Hollande onto the red carpet as the two national flags flew overhead at his Muqataa presidential headquarters, Mr Abbas hailed his “historic visit” before the two went into an hour-long meeting followed by a working lunch.

Last week, Israeli plans to build another 20,000 new settler homes sparked the resignation of the entire Palestinian negotiating team, although the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, quickly rescinded the move to avoid a major fallout with the international community.

Despite the crisis, Mr Abbas on Sunday said peace talks with Israel would continue for the full nine months agreed with Washington, “regardless of what happens on the ground”.

Before meeting Mr Abbas, Mr Hollande acknowledged there had been little progress in the talks.

“The status quo is not the solution,” he said while visiting a church in Jerusalem’s Old City yesterday.

“Out of nine months, three have already passed without any real progress. We need to quicken the process, to speed it up.”

But Mr Hollande also made clear that France expected “efforts” from the Palestinians.

And he said a “realistic solution” must be found for the thorny question of Palestinian refugees who fled or were driven out of their homes during the war that accompanied Israel’s emergence as a state in 1948.

On arrival at the Muqataa, a brief 15-minute drive from Jerusalem, Mr Hollande paid his respects at the tomb of Yasser Arafat.

Following his visit to Ramallah, Mr Hollande returned to Jerusalem and addressed the Israeli parliament. He reiterated that Israel should stop building illegal settlements and said that France would not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

His visit comes before the P5+1 group of world powers are to resume talks with Iran in Geneva tomorrow on a deal to scale back Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

A previous round of talks ended on November 10 without agreement, with France taking a tougher stance than its western partners in a move which won

glowing praise in Israel.

* Agence France-Presse