Netanyahu, Sarkozy make no settlement breakthrough

AP News
Posted: Nov 11, 2009 5:03 PM

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, at odds over Jewish settlements, made no apparent dent in the dispute as they sought to find ways Wednesday to revive Mideast peace efforts.

The Israeli leader said he would welcome talks with Syria as part of the broader peace push, and Sarkozy called the Palestinian president to urge renewed negotiations with Israel, according to Israeli media.

However, growing international frustration with the settlements is the central reason peace efforts are logjammed, and there was no public sign that Netanyahu's trip this week to Washington and then Paris produced any breakthroughs.

Netanyahu's tour was overshadowed by anxiety over the future of the Palestinian Authority and fears of new extremist violence, after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas threatened to resign over the breakdown in the drive for peace. Israel Radio reported that Sarkozy, while in talks with Netanyahu, called Abbas to urge him to pursue negotiations.

Officials with the Palestinian Authority say peace talks can't resume until Israel commits to freezing, and not just limiting, settlement activity on lands the Palestinians want as part of a future state.

Sarkozy, increasingly impatient with Israeli resistance to a freeze, hosted Netanyahu for more than an hour and half, and the two emerged shaking hands but refused to speak to reporters.

In a terse joint statement, they said they "agreed to deploy all efforts" toward "immediately reviving the peace process" _ but gave no details.

The Obama administration also has called for a freeze in settlement-building, but U.S. Secretary of State Hillary 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.

Paris is less flexible. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on French radio Tuesday that a settlement freeze was "absolutely indispensable" to peace talks and warned that Israelis seem to have lost their aspirations for peace.

France is feeling out Mideast leaders this week to see if there is any way of resuscitating peace efforts. Kouchner is heading to Israel and the Palestinian territories in the coming days.

Netanyahu told Sarkozy that Israel would welcome immediate talks with Syria without preconditions, according to Israeli media. Syrian President Bashar Assad comes to Paris on Thursday. Last year, Syria and Israel held four rounds of indirect peace talks mediated by Turkey without making headway.

Netanyahu and Sarkozy likely found some common ground on Iran, officially the main reason for Netanyahu's Paris stop.

Their statement said they discussed international efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program "in light of latest evolutions," referring to Iran's apparent rejection of an international proposal to send Iranian uranium abroad for enrichment.

Israel views Iran as a major strategic threat, and France under Sarkozy has assumed a stern stance against Tehran, pushing it to halt nuclear activities Iran says are aimed at producing nuclear energy but that the West fears is aimed at making nuclear bombs.

Netanyahu is under increasing international pressure not only over settlements but also over war crimes allegations stemming from the Gaza conflict. Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told his Israeli counterpart Wednesday that the Netherlands wants Jerusalem and Palestinian authorities to investigate the claims.

The U.N. Human Rights Council endorsed a report calling on Israel and the Hamas militant group to carry out credible investigations into alleged abuses. Almost 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the Dec. 27-Jan. 18 conflict.

Netanyahu's visit came as Palestinians marked five years since the death of their legendary leader, Yasser Arafat in a French military hospital near Paris.


Associated Press writer Mike Corder in La Hague, Netherlands contributed to this report.