Sarkozy presses Israel for settlement freeze
June 24, 2008
BEIT-UL-MOQADDAS (AFP) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on Monday for a halt to Jewish settlement activity in the occupied West Bank in an address to the Israeli parliament.“There can be no peace without stopping settlement,” Sarkozy told MPs and invited guests.
“There is a proposal backed by many members of your Knesset for the adoption of a law that would encourage settlers to leave the West Bank in exchange for compensation and relocation in Israel,” he said.
Israeli authorities have announced the construction of hundreds of new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank in recent months, infuriating the Palestinians and drawing criticism from the international community which regards all settlements on occupied land as illegal.
Sarkozy also called for an easing of travel restrictions in the West Bank, where the army operates hundreds of roadblocks which the World Bank says are a major obstacle to economic growth.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas welcomed Sarkozy's speech, his spokesman said. “The positions expressed by President Sarkozy reflect the French support for the Palestinian cause in seeking to reach a peaceful settlement in the region,” Nabil Abu Rudeina said.
On Tuesday, Sarkozy plans to travel to the West Bank town of Bethlehem for talks with the Palestinian president.
Sarkozy's visit, one of several by world leaders to mark the Israel’s 60th anniversary, was aimed at underlining the strength of Franco-Israeli relations, in contrast with the tensions that marked ties under former French president Jacques Chirac, perceived in Israel as being pro-Arab.
Sarkozy is the first French president to visit Israel in almost 12 years, and only the second to address the Israeli parliament after Francois Mitterrand in 1982.
On Monday morning, Sarkozy and his wife -- supermodel-turned-singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy -- toured Yad Vashem memorial.