(Jerusalem, Israel) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a bold gesture today in hopes of significantly advancing the peace process with the Palestinians: he invited Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to speak at the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), and offered to visit Ramallah and speak to the Palestinian people and government.
Netanyahu made the move during French President Francois Hollande’s second day in the Holy Land. Hollande spent part of the day visiting Abbas in the Palestinian capital of the West Bank. Later Hollande addressed the Knesset. During his speech, he insisted France would oppose a terrible nuclear deal with Iran.
“We have nothing against Iran, or its people, but we cannot allow Iran to get nuclear arms as it is a threat to Israel and the region,” Hollande told Israeli lawmakers. “We will maintain the sanctions as long as we are not certain that Iran has definitively renounced its military programme.”
In the same speech, the French leader also called for Israel to divide Jerusalem and help make it a co-capital with the Palestinians.
Here’s the latest coverage from Haaretz, a leading Israeli daily newspaper: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Monday to address the Israeli parliament, and said he would be willing to visit Ramallah,” reports Haaretz. “Speaking at a special plenary session in honor of French President Francois Hollande’s visit to Israel, Netanyahu called on Abbas to “end the stalemate” between Israel and the Palestinians.”“I call on President Abbas to come here to the Knesset and recognize the relationship between the Jews and the Land of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
“Hollande, who addressed the Knesset after Netanyahu, called on Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank, saying that these were ‘hampering the creation of a Palestinian state,'” noted Haaretz.
“The status quo with the Palestinians cannot last,” the French president said…..
“Hollande raised the issue of Jerusalem, the reign over which is another contentious element of the peace negotiations,” reported Haaretz, saying “France thinks that Jerusalem should be the capital of both Israel and Palestine.”
Other excerpts from the article:
- On the subject of Iran, Hollande reiterated a point he made upon his arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport that “France will not let Iran obtain nuclear weapons.”
- He clarified that France has no problem with the Islamic Republic, and even supports its right to “peaceful nuclear energy.”
- However, he insisted that the prospect of Iran achieving nuclear weapons was “unacceptable,” adding, in light of negotiations between the six world powers and Iran over its nuclear program, that “Iran needs to answer with deeds, not words.”
- Turing his attention to Syria, Hollande said that if a solution is not found in that country the Middle East “could be destabilized.”
- Hollande expressed hope that France and Israel would warm ties, highlighting his hope for closer economic relations, especially with respect to the high-tech industry and cooperation between Israeli and French universities.
- Opposition leader Shelly Yacomovich (Labor) also spoke at the special Knesset session. During her remarks, Yacimovich said the opposition would support the Netanyahu government with any progress it makes in the peace process.
- Earlier on Monday, Hollande travelled to Ramallah where he met with the Palestinian leadership. There, he called on the Palestinians to show flexibility on the issue of the 1948 refugees’ “right of return,” and in exchange demand a halt to construction in the West Bank settlements as a way to make progress in the diplomatic talks.
- Hollande met with Abbas at the Mukata government compound in Ramallah, where he reiterated the French policy that Israeli construction in the West Bank should be frozen because the settlements are an obstacle to moving the peace process forward. However, he also told Abbas that during his conversations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the premier cited the refugee issue as one that was liable to make it difficult for the two sides to reach an agreement.
- “France opposes the settlements,” Hollande told a joint press conference after the meeting with Abbas. “Construction in the settlements must be stopped because it will make it more difficult to achieve a two-state solution and get the two sides back to the negotiating table,” he said, adding that the focus of his discussion with Abbas was the refugees issue.