JERUSALEM (AFP) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy was expected to stress solidarity with Israel and press for the creation of a Palestinian state in an address to the parliament in Jerusalem Monday.
Sarkozy has repeated the two messages since the start on Sunday of his three-day visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank.
He underlined that Israel needed to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to guarantee its own security, and singled out the continued construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank for criticism.
“As I have said on several occasions, freezing settlements which are the main obstacle to peace, is crucial,” Sarkozy said in an interview with the Palestinian Al-Quds newspaper published on Monday.
Israeli authorities have announced the construction of hundreds of new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank in recent months, infuriating Palestinians and drawing international criticism.
“Israel must now do more so that the situation on the ground changes and that the daily life of the Palestinian population improves,” he said, adding that this was key to preventing the peace process from getting bogged down.
The long dormant Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were revived at a US conference last November, but have made little progress since.
On Sunday night, Sarkozy told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that while Israel needed to be strong to survive, “peace cannot only be built through strength. It is built with dialogue and a hand held out.”
The trip, one of several high-profile visits by world leaders to mark the Jewish state’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.
“I have always been Israel’s friend,” Sarkozy said upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv on Sunday.
His visit is the first to Israel by a French president in almost 12 years, and his Knesset address will be the second by a French president after that of Francois Mitterrand in 1982.
On Monday morning, Sarkozy and his wife — supermodel-turned-singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy — toured Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem, a memorial to the six million Jews killed by Germany’s Nazi regime.
Later in the day he was scheduled to meet with the parents of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier — who also holds French nationality — captured by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip in a bloody cross-border raid two years ago.
Sarkozy also plans to travel to the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Tuesday for talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
In addition to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Sarkozy was also expected to discuss other regional issues following his recent contacts with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.