Sarkozy: Israel must stop 'colonization'

Tells Peres France will "always be at Israel's side;" says peace process is best way to battle terrorism.

sarkozy peres wave 224  (photo credit: AP)
sarkozy peres wave 224
(photo credit: AP)
Israel's security depends upon a halt to "colonization" in the West Bank, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Monday, as he welcomed his counterpart President Shimon Peres for a five-day state visit. Sarkozy said France would "always be at [Israel's] side" and insisted the best way for Israel to battle terrorism was to help restart the stalled Mideast peace process. French-Israeli ties have warmed considerably under Sarkozy after the 12-year tenure of his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, whom many saw as more pro-Arab. But Sarkozy's France has reacted coolly to Israel's recent announcements that it was stepping up housing and apartment construction in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem. "Israel's security depends on a stop to the colonization," Sarkozy told Peres during their meeting at the Elysee Palace. The comments were relayed to reporters by French presidential spokesman David Martinon. Earlier Monday, French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani reiterated that France "condemns" continued "colonization" that could threaten the creation of a viable Palestinian state. She urged Israel to refrain from "any unilateral action" that could prejudge the final status of Palestinian territories or the peace process. For his part, Sarkozy said: "My conviction is clear: the best guarantee for Israel's security is the creation of a modern, democratic and viable Palestinian state before the end of 2008," according to Martinon. Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Sarkozy, Peres said last week's shooting attack in Jerusalem's Mercaz Harav Yeshiva would not alter Israel's policy. "What happened in Jerusalem was a real tragedy for us, but we don't intend to change our policies - namely, not to create new settlements," he said. Peres also said France and Israel agreed that Iran presented "the greatest danger" today over its contested nuclear program. Israeli flags lined the Champs-Elysées for Peres' state visit. Sarkozy, who took office in May, gave his guest a 19th-century engraving of a portrait of diplomat and writer Chateaubriand, and four old books. Peres dedicated an olive grove at a Holon agronomic school, near Tel Aviv, to the French leader. During his visit, Peres planned to meet French Jewish leaders and other government officials, and to inaugurate a book fair celebrating Israeli literature. Sarkozy is expected to visit Israel in May.