Sunday, October 31, 2010

Haaretz: Israel risks diplomatic rift with France over settlement freeze

Bibi Netanyahu, the politician of 'no'

Relations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have become considerably tense following a telephone conversation between the two leaders 10 days ago.

During that conversation, the French leader apparently asked Netanyahu to extend the settlement freeze in the West Bank so that peace talks could be resumed.

Two European diplomats familiar with the contents of the exchange said Sarkozy was furious with Netanyahu for canceling his participation in a summit with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris at the last moment.

Other participants at the event, hosted by Sarkozy, included Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

About a month ago, Sarkozy proposed to Netanyahu and Abbas that they both take part in a summit aimed at overcoming the crisis stemming from the construction freeze.

According to the European diplomats, Sarkozy had scheduled the Paris summit for October 21, representing a first step toward restarting the peace talks.

This would have been followed with a summit of the Union for the Mediterranean, scheduled for November in Barcelona, which both Netanyahu and Abbas are also expected to attend.

Netanyahu decided not to attend the Paris event once he realized that the U.S. administration viewed it as a positive development. 

"Netanyahu realized that he would come under enormous pressure on the issue of the settlements and decided to cancel his participation to avoid that pressure," some diplomats said.

During the telephone conversation between Netanyahu and Sarkozy 10 days ago, the Israeli prime minister informed the French president that he would not attend the summit because the timing was wrong.

Sarkozy replied by telling Netanyahu that he did not accept his explanations and did not understand the reasoning for his cancellation.

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