French, Spanish Foreign Ministers Heading to Israel to Push Sarkozy's Peace Summit

French and Spanish officials to arrive on Sunday; plan to pitch idea of Paris peace summit between Netanyahu and Abbas later this month.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos are to arrive in Israel Sunday to move ahead President Nicolas Sarkozy's idea of a summit in Paris later this month between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to French diplomats and officials in Netanyahu's bureau, the two leaders have expressed willingness to take part in a summit, planned for October 21. However, implementation would depend on the decision of the Arab League summit on Friday and on a solution to the crisis over the end of the construction freeze in the settlements.

Abbas Sarkozy AP

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whom Sarkozy has also invited, has signaled readiness to attend. he French president has also extended an invitation to Paris for the summit to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

A senior Israeli official who is knowledgeable about preparations for the summit said that the American response to Sarkozy's idea was cool. "Clinton did not say no, but also did not respond in the affirmative," the official said.

Sarkozy might expand the list of participants to include the leaders of Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain.

Sarkozy's "excuse" for the Paris meeting is the need to prepare for the summit of the Mediterranean Union, scheduled for late November in Barcelona.

The Mediterranean Union, a Sarkozy initiative, has been almost completely dormant since Netanyahu took office. Egypt, Syria and the other Arab countries have refused to participate in the organization's meetings since Israel was to have been represented at most of them by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

A senior Israeli official said Sarkozy would like to use a summit in Paris and the Barcelona conference to give France a more central role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Sarkozy and Kouchne are said to believe that an American monopoly on the process does not help advance it and is sometimes detrimental because of American mistakes in leading negotiations.

Abbas looking for backing

Meanwhile, at the Arab League summit Friday in Serit, Libya, Abbas is expected to garner widespread support for his position that direct negotiations with Israel should not be renewed until Israel extends the construction freeze in the settlements.

Talks are continuing between Israel and the United States in solving the crisis over ending the freeze, with no breakthrough in sight.

Netanyahu published two statements in as many days condemning Israeli actions against Palestinians.

On Tuesday he spoke out against the burning of a mosque in Beit Fajjar and yesterday he denounced the clip of an Israeli soldier dancing next to a handcuffed Palestinian woman.

Netanyahu said: "Such actions and clips shame the IDF and the State of Israel and cause us heavy international damage," adding that humiliating prisoners was "not the way of Israel or of the Jewish people."