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Sarkozy Urges Settlement Freeze in Israel Speech

French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged his allegiance to Israel in a historic speach to Israel's Knesset. But he also called for a stop to West Bank settlements and for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians.

Nicolas Sarkozy speaks to the Israeli Knesset

Sarkozy has pushed for closer ties with Israel since taking office

Sarkozy, the first french president to address the Israeli parliament since Francois Mitterand in 1982, has broken rank with his predecessors since he took office a year ago by repeatedly describing himself as a "friend of Israel," and calling for closer ties with the Jewish state.

Addressing the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset on Monday, June 23, Sarkozy reiterated there can be no compromise on Israel's security.

Sarkozy promised that France will come to Israel's defense if it is ever attacked. The French president also said he would not tolerate a nuclear Iran.

"France is ready to provide its guarantee, ready to mobilise its diplomatic service, its resources, its soldiers," he said, without specifying what role French troops could play.

"No peace without end to settlement activity"

Sarkozy said peace with the Palestinians was possible if Israel stopped all settlement activity, lifted the checkpoints in the West Bank, ended a blockade of Gaza and accepted Jerusalem as capital of two states.

He called on both sides to make peace. But he said that Israel has a special responsibility because it is the stronger player.

"Create the conditions for movement," Sarkozy told lawmakers, urging them to back a proposal for settlers to leave the West Bank in return for compensation and rehousing in Israel.

Israeli authorities have angered the Palestinians by recently announcing the construction of hundreds of new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

"There can be no peace without a halt to settlement activity," Sarkozy said.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Sarkozy a true friend of the Jewish state, while acknowledging that the two countries do "not always do we see eye to eye on every detail."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Sarkozy's comments on settlements and Jerusalem, a senior aide said.

"It's a speech that the Israeli leaders need to listen to," Saeb Erekat said.

Sarkozy also condemned "terrorism" and told Israel it was not alone facing what he said was a military Iranian nuclear program.

Strengthening Mediterranean ties

France has traditionally had closer ties with the Arab world than Israel. Under Sarkozy's presidency, the two nations have had better relations than for any time in decades.

Part of Sarkozy's interest in Israel is tied to his desire to create a union of countries which border the Mediterranean. This is no small task since several Arab and African nations in the bloc don't have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

Sarkozy plans to hold a conference of Mediterranean nations in Paris in July. He has invited leaders from Lebanon and Syria as well as Israel.

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