France urges Palestinian leader not to step down

AP News
Posted: Nov 10, 2009 10:52 AM

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday to stay in power to keep hopes for Mideast peace alive.

Paris is a hub of Mideast diplomatic activity this week, with visits by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Syrian President Bashar Assad. French officials are stepping up pressure on Israel to stop settlement-building and are trying to get stalled peace efforts moving again.

Sarkozy telephoned Abbas on Tuesday and "encouraged Mr. Abbas to pursue his actions in the service of the Palestinians and of peace," according to a statement from Sarkozy's office.

Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, announced last week that he would not run for another term in an election scheduled for January, citing deadlocked efforts to revive peace talks with Israel. Some Palestinians question whether he was serious or just trying to shake things up. Moderates fear his departure could boost militants who claim violence is the only option, and some top Israeli officials have also urged him to stay on.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who will head for Israel and the Palestinian territories in the coming days, was blunt: "The Palestinian president must not resign," he said.

Kouchner suggested Israel was losing interest in peace.

"Before, there were was a great peace movement" among Israelis, he said on France-Inter radio. "It seems to me that this aspiration has disappeared."

In Washington on Monday, Netanyahu called for an immediate resumption of peace talks with Palestinians. He made no new proposals on constraining Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority officials s insist they will not engage in peace talks until Israel meets its commitment to freezing _ not just limiting _ settlement activity on lands the Palestinians want as part of a future Palestinian state.

The Obama administration says it does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton argued during a visit to the Mideast last week that Israeli restraint could be seen as a first step toward a negotiated halt to settlement activity.

Kouchner reiterated France's demand that "a freeze in settlements ... while we are talking, is absolutely indispensable."