Saturday, April 23, 2011

Will France Recognize Palestine?

Abbas in Paris as France Mulls Recognising Palestine

By Herve Rouach
Agence France Presse
22 April 2011

PARIS — President Nicolas Sarkozy hosted Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in Paris on Thursday as France told the United Nations that Europe was considering giving formal recognition to a Palestinian state.

"Recognition of the state of Palestine is one of the options which France is considering, with its European partners, with a view to creating a political horizon for relaunching the peace process," French ambassador Gerard Araud told a UN Security Council debate on the Middle East.

His statement came as Abbas was in the French capital to seek Sarkozy's "advice", in his own words, on the Palestinian Authority's bid to convince the world to accept its statehood even ahead of an ever elusive peace deal.

Any move to welcome a Palestinian state into the community of nations would be seen as an attempt to give a jolt to peace talks with Israel that stalled last September after Israel refused to extend a moratorium on settlements.

Abbas told the French daily le Figaro that US President Barack Obama "should" propose a peace plan ahead of a September deadline previously set for an accord to create a Palestinian state.

"The United States, as the big power, has the duty to make proposals. It is they who can convince Israel," he said in an interview to be published on Friday.

European ambassadors at the UN Security Council, meanwhile, called for "bold" US leadership to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Britain also indicated that state recognition could be considered.

"Nothing is off the table with regard to recognition in September," said a British spokesman.

Pressure has mounted on Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid heightened Palestinian-Israeli hostilities and a US block on European attempts to break the deadlock.

Abbas told France 24 television that, while he hoped to return to talks with Israel, he thought most European governments were ready to recognise a Palestinian state come what may.

"All the signs from these organisations and states show that they're waiting for the right moment to recognise us," he said, while admitting there have been no outright promises to do so.

Sarkozy has not recently taken a position on the issue, having distanced himself in January last year from his then foreign minister Bernard Kouchner's suggestion that France might unilaterally recognise Palestine.

But Abbas' visit comes at a time when France, which holds the G8 and G20 presidencies, is adopting a more muscular foreign policy designed to revive its global role, in particular its position in the Arab world.

France led international calls for action against Moamer Kadhafi's Libyan regime, spearheading coalition air strikes and becoming the first power to adopt ties with the rebel shadow government in Benghazi.

Paris backs the goal of statehood by the time of the UN General Assembly in September.

But, as ever, profound differences remain between Israeli and Palestinian camps that could yet delay a vote.

Ongoing Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank claimed by Palestinians has sharpened divisions, but the wider international community is also divided on how best to push the talks forward.

The Middle East Quartet -- a diplomatic body overseeing the peace "roadmap" made up of Russia, the European Union, the United Nations and the United States -- postponed a meeting that had been scheduled for April 15.

Europe hoped to announce the "parameters" of an imagined final agreement, but its partners in the process were not ready.

Last week, the Palestinian Authority urged Washington to clearly support the idea of a Palestinian State based on its 1967 borders—those used before the Six Day War with Israel—with East Jerusalem as its capital.

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