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Europe

Sarkozy supports Abbas, calls for halt to Israeli settlement construction

The French and Palestinian presidents met in Paris on Monday, condemning the resumption of Israeli West Bank settlement building. Not a month after Israeli-Palestinian peace talks resumed, their future is in jeopardy.

Mahmoud Abbas and Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris

Sarkozy invited Abbas back to Paris before the end of October

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delayed a decision on withdrawing from direct peace talks with Israel on Monday as France voiced strong support for the Palestinian position.

After meeting with Abbas in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters that France regretted that Israel had not listened to "unanimous calls" to extend a 10-month freeze on Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

The settlement freeze "should have been extended to give negotiations a chance," Sarkozy said. "I say this in front of President Abbas: Settlement must stop."

European Union weighs in

Benjamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu disappointed world leaders by not extending the settlement freeze

Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, expressed similar feelings in a statement given by her spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic.

"The position of the EU is very clear: settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible," Kocijancic told German news agency dpa.

The United States also expressed disappointment that the settlement freeze had not been extended and announced that its Middle East envoy George Mitchell was on his way to the region to restart negotiations.

The EU and the United States make up half of the Middle East Quartet charged with pursuing a peace solution. The other members of the Quartet are Russia and the United Nations.

Settlements continue to expand

Bulldozers in at least two West Bank settlements resumed work early on Monday just hours after the moratorium expired. The Palestinian leadership had repeatedly threatened to pull out of direct peace talks with Israel if the settlements continued to expand.

But Abbas said there would be no official Palestinian answer to the construction resumption until after a meeting with top Arab diplomats on October 4.

"After all these meetings we may be able to issue a position to clarify what is the Palestinian and Arab opinion on this matter, after Israel has refused to freeze settlements," he said. "We will not have swift reactions now."

Sarkozy also invited Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to meet in Paris before the end of October.

Building materials at an Israeli West Bank settlement

Abbas and Sarkouy urged Israel to extend its settlement freeze

Peace talks on the line

The settlement construction threatened to end the first direct negotiations since 2008 between Israel and the Palestinians, which began in Washington nearly four weeks ago.

Netanyahu said in a statement shortly before the construction freeze expired that Israel was "ready to pursue continuous contacts in the coming days to find a way to continue peace talks."

The United States also said its position that the settlement freeze should continue had not changed. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the US is "in close touch with both parties and will be meeting with them again in the coming days."

From the Palestinian point of view, Israeli settlements in the West Bank are a major barrier to the peace process. Palestinian leaders say the settlements will make the creation of a viable independent state impossible.

Most of the international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be in violation of international law, but Israel insists they are legitimate.

Author: Andrew Bowen (Reuters/AFP/AP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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