'Nothing justifies settlement expansion'

French FM Kouchner urges Israel to do more to lift restrictions on Palestinian movement in West Bank.

kouchner bethlehem 224.8 (photo credit: AP)
kouchner bethlehem 224.8
(photo credit: AP)
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Friday that "nothing justifies" Israeli settlement expansion, and urged Israel to do more to lift restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank. Kouchner spoke at the closing session of an investors' conference in Bethlehem, where Palestinians had sought backing for nearly $2 billion in development projects, from fish farms to a new city of 25,000. He also said Israeli restrictions on Palestinian mobility remain significant. "Israel should and can exert more efforts (to ease the restrictions) without endangering security," he said. Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said that was exactly what Israel was trying to do. "That's our challenge: To take down roadblocks, to try to create greater movement and access for Palestinians while maintaining security." Kouchner also criticized the ongoing construction in Israeli settlements. "Nothing justifies the settlement expansion, which constitutes an impediment to peace, as well as an obstacle obstructing the development of the Palestinian economy," he said. Regev said settlement construction continues only in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, which Israel does not consider settlements, and inside large West Bank settlement blocs that Israel intends to retain in any final peace accord. The three-day conference was designed to help revive the Palestinian economy and support efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establish a Palestinian state. It was a follow-up to a gathering of international donor countries in Paris in December, where $7.7 billion in aid over three years was pledged.