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Hollande: Israel 'must stop' building settlements or risk derailing Palestinian peace talks

French President Francois Hollande has called on Israel to stop settlement activity on occupied territories. He warned Israeli parliamentarians that ongoing building threatened Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem "must stop" for the sake of a future peace deal with the Palestinians, Hollande told Israel's parliament, the Knesset, on Monday.

With no breakthrough in peace talks, which resumed earlier this year, the French president called on both sides to accept a deal which recognized Jerusalem as the capital of two separate states - a viable Palestine and a secure Jerusalem.

"Settlement activity must stop because it compromises the two-state solution," he told lawmakers, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, from the podium of the Knesset.

"France's position is known: a negotiated settlement, with the state of Israel and [the future state] of Palestine both having Jerusalem as capital, coexisting in peace and security."

"Today there is urgency to make progress," he said, adding: "the status quo is unsustainable."

Earlier on Monday in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Hollande stressed the need for "a full and total halt to settlements" during a press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He commended Netanyahu's decision to scrap the preliminary planning of another 24,000 housing units, however, describing the move as the "right thing to do."

The plan, which Netanyahu asserted was ordered without any advance coordination by his pro-settler housing minister, prompted the Palestinian negotiating team to resign from peace talks.

Abbas told reporters on Monday that negotiations with Israel would continue, despite Palestinian anger the building of settler homes, which he described as "the greatest threat that could end the peace process and lead to its failure."

Netanyahu extends invite to Abbas

President Netanyahu responded to Hollande's appeal on Monday by reiterating his commitment to "the solution of two states for two peoples in the framework of real peace," while acknowledging that: "Not all the MPs in this house agree with me."

He called on Palestinians to reciprocate and recognize Israel as "the nation state of the Jewish people," challenging Abbas to address the Knesset.

"I call on [Abbas] from here today: let's break the deadlock: Come to the Israeli Knesset and I'll come to Ramallah. Get up on this platform and recognize the historical truth: the Jews have a nearly 4,000-year-old link to the land of Israel."

Israel has announced plans for thousands of new settler homes since the US-brokered peace talks between the two sides began in July after a three-year break.

Settlement activity on territories seized by Israeli in the 1967 Middle East War have been at the center of the stalemate in negotiations. Israeli cites historical and Biblical links to those areas, while Palestinians, who want east Jerusalem as capital of their future state, fear that settlements will deny them a viable country.

Most countries consider settlements illegal under international law, and the United States describes them as illegitimate.

Hollande backs Iran sanctions

Hollande also used his visit to Israel to reiterate France's opposition to an easing of international sanctions on Iran as part of a deal aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

"We will maintain the sanctions as long as we are not certain that Iran has definitively and irreversibly renounced its military program to obtain nuclear weapons," he told the Knesset.

"France will not let Iran arm itself with nuclear weapons."

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, known as the p5+1, are seeking an interim agreement with Tehran which could see it curb its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions.

France has taken a tougher stance in negotiations than its western allies, with international negotiators in Geneva earlier this month failing to reach a deal. Israel has also repeatedly expressed opposition to the mooted deal.

Israel, alongside other many other Western nations, fear that Iran is seeking to develop atomic weapons. Iran maintains, however, that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

ccp/jr (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)