Netanyahu in Paris with peace efforts in peril

AP News
Posted: Nov 11, 2009 5:19 AM

Growing frustration with Jewish settlements and anxiety about the Palestinian Authority's future set the stage for talks Wednesday between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Iran is the reason Netanyahu wanted to visit France, and he's likely to urge Sarkozy to press harder on Tehran to freeze nuclear activities.

Sarkozy, however, is likely to press the Israeli leader to relax his stance on Jewish settlements, which have thrown a wrench into the Mideast peace process and prompted fears of renewed extremist violence.

The Palestinians say peace talks can't resume until Israel meets its commitment to freezing, and not just limiting, settlement activity on lands the Palestinians want as part of a future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu has so far resisted, and made no further commitments during an awkward visit to the United States earlier this week. The Obama administration also has called for a freeze, 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, and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on French radio Tuesday that a settlement freeze was "absolutely indispensable" to peace talks. He said the "political dispute" over the settlements between Sarkozy and Netanyahu would be central to their talks Wednesday and warned that Israelis seemed 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. Syrian President Bashar Assad comes Thursday and Sarkozy called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday to urge him to stay in power.

Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, says he will not run for another term in an election scheduled for January, citing the deadlock. Moderates fear his departure could boost militants who claim violence is the only option.

Netanyahu's visit to France comes as Palestinians living in the West Bank are marking five years since the death of their legendary leader, Yasser Arafat, who died in a Paris region military hospital.

Israeli officials have said Iran is a focus of Netanyahu's trip.

Israel views Iran as a major strategic threat, and France has pushed Tehran to halt nuclear activities that Iranians say are aimed at producing nuclear energy but that the West fears is aimed at making nuclear bombs.