Sarkozy: Palestinians must recognize Jewish state

‘I have defended Netanyahu throughout my political life,’ French president tells Jewish leaders.

Nicolas Sarkozy 260 (photo credit: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier)
Nicolas Sarkozy 260
(photo credit: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier)
Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is key to any peace agreement that establishes a two-state solution, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told members of the World Jewish Congress on Wednesday.
The WJC representatives met with Sarkozy for 90 minutes at the Elysée Palace in Paris, according to sources from the gathering who spoke with The Jerusalem Post by telephone from the French capital.
RELATED:PM: Iranian nukes endanger Mideast, world peace Sarkozy gaffe rekindles talk of US-J'lem tensions
Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state has been an important point for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has insisted that the Palestinian failure to take this step is the true stumbling block to peace.
Palestinians in turn have insisted it is continued construction in settlements and in east Jerusalem that has prevented a peace deal.
Sarkozy told the Jewish leaders, including members of the Counseil Representatif des Institutions juives de France (CRIF), that he was very critical of Israeli settlement construction, according to the sources.
He called on Israel to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank, but not in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, according to the sources.
Sarkozy drew a link between an Israeli settlement freeze and Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewish nature as the best way to resume negotiations, the sources said.
WJC President Ronald S.
Lauder and CRIF members said it was important to distinguish between Jewish construction in the West Bank and such building in Jerusalem. They underscored for Sarkozy the importance of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people, and that it was important not to divide it.
The sources said they felt Sarkozy had understood their point.
WJC Secretary-General Dan Diker said settlement construction had little to do with the Palestinian decision to seek unilateral recognition of statehood, according to the sources.
Since 2009, the Palestinian Authority has made a strategic decision to stop negotiating with Israel and to pursue statehood independent of Israeli actions, Diker said.
Diker said Israel has waited “with an outstretched hand” for the Palestinians to come back to the negotiating table.”
Diker reminded Sarkozy that Israel was willing to talk with the Palestinians without preconditions, according to the sources.
Sarkozy said it was essential for negotiations to resume and “the only way to peace” was through direct talks between the two sides. He added that France wanted to play a central role in helping Israel and the Palestinians reach a final-status agreement, the sources said.
Sarkozy also spoke of his opposition to the Palestinian bid for full UN membership.
Lauder thanked Sarkozy for the French decision last week to promise to abstain in the UN Security Council vote on Palestinian UN membership.
None of the visitors to the palace brought up Tuesday’s headline story in which Sarkozy was heard calling Netanyahu a liar in a conversation with US President Barack Obama.
But the sources added that Sarkozy has spoken of his support for Netanyahu.
“I have defended Bibi throughout my political life,” the French president said, according to the sources. He added that he was a longtime supporter of Israel and its leadership, even when people made anti- Semitic slurs against him as a result.
Sarkozy told the Jewish leadership he felt that Israel had lost the media war and had failed to make its case to the international community that it wanted peace, according to the sources.