French FM: Coming days are a test for Israel
Kouchner begins round of meetings with Israeli officials in bid to push peace talks with Palestinians.
Israel needs quickly to advance the peace process, visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Wednesday as he began a round of meetings with Israeli officials.
"The coming days are a test for the Israeli government, since time is not on the side of both parties [to the Israel-Palestinian peace process]," Israeli media quoted Kouchner as saying in a meeting with Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman.
Kouchner arrived in Israel after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, Jordan, on Tuesday, where he urged Israelis and Palestinians to resume peace talks from the point they reached when suspended one year ago, rather than beginning from scratch.
The French foreign minister also met with chairwoman and opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who referred to the controversial plan to construct 900 new homes in the Gilo neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
"Gilo is part of the Israeli consensus...and it is important to understand this for all discussions of borders in any future agreement," said Livni.
Gilo, where some 40,000 Israelis live, was built on West Bank land Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed as part of Jerusalem.
Livni and Kouchner also discussed Iran's nuclear aspirations. "The time has come for harsh sanctions against Iran," said Livni. "The international community must be clear on this, and all dialogue must have a time frame."
Livni is expected to make an official visit to Paris in early December.
He also called on Abbas to remain in office, saying his leadership of the Palestinian people was indispensable to the success of the peace process.
Abbas said last week he would not contest the next Palestinian Presidential elections, after Israel refused his demand to freeze settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank as a condition for resuming peace talks.
Kouchner last week said that France fears Israel no longer desires a Middle East peace deal, adding that Paris remained deeply opposed to settlement building in the West Bank.
"What really hurts me, and this shocks us, is that before there used to be a great peace movement in Israel. There was a left that made itself heard and a real desire for peace," Kouchner said.
"It seems to me, and I hope that I am completely wrong, that this desire has completely vanished, as though people no longer believe in it," he added.
When Sarkozy took office in 2007 he worked hard to improve sometimes frosty French relations with Israel, believing Paris would never be a credible partner in Middle East peace talks if it was seen as biased in favor of the Arab world.