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In Paris, Benjamin Netanyahu finds growing European doubt on Middle East peace

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in France on Wednesday, as President Nicolas Sarkozy's government wonders if Israel is interested in peacemaking with the Palestinians.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 12, 2009

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (l.) greets Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Wednesday.

Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

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Paris

Europeans, and the French in particular, strong backers of Washington's efforts to broker a Mideast deal, are starting to register frustration with the White House's handling of Israel-Palestinian relations.

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Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to quit in January, and efforts toward Israeli-Palestinian peace are completely stalled. Now the Europeans are searching for ways to push both Americans and Israelis to solve what they see as a deteriorating situation in the West Bank and Gaza, with the French leading the way.

Despite French President Nicolas Sarkozy's close ties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Paris on Wednesday, Mr. Sarkozy told the Israeli leader that progress on peace with the Palestinians remains a priority, diplomats said.

Europeans do not have a strong hand, diplomats here admit. Yet the recent shift by President Barack Obama from demanding a "freeze" on settlement expansion in June to a call for "restraint" on settlements, is regarded by many here as a step in the wrong direction.

In Paris, President Obama's shift in position is seen as abrupt, and as the principal reason Mr. Abbas announced he was quitting, potentially depriving the peace process of the Palestinian leader that America, Europe and Israel must trust.

In Paris there's both understanding that Obama is tackling a historically intransigent problem and keen disappointment.

"The disillusion with the Americans is growing stronger. We are starting to feel an opportunity is being squandered, and there is growing irritation with Israel's stance,'' says Dominique Moisi, the founder of the French Institute for International Relations. "Time is running short. Do we want Hamas to be the sole representative of the Palestinian people? If not, the only person who can do something about that is Netanyahu."

While Mr. Moisi said the French are ready "in principle" to push their US allies, he asked "Will Netanyahu care?"

Fran├žois Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris says the Europeans are trying to push the Americans to arrive at a two state solution. "But no one knows what the American policy is at this point. Obama's position on a settlement freeze was unacceptable to Israel. Clinton's 180-degree reverse was unacceptable to the Palestinians, and it may have destroyed the Palestinian Authority," he said.

Off to Gaza

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