Israel’s President, Shimon Peres, met with his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, Friday. The two conducted a diplomatic work meeting in Paris at the Elysee Palace after which they addressed the media in a joint press conference.
Hollande expressed concerns over plans for settlement construction in the West Bank but said “France stands by Israel and the Palestinians and will help, in any way she can, to progress peace.”
In response Peres said, “I believe that when a new government is formed in Israel the peace process will start once again. We are anticipating the visit by President Obama to Israel; his visit is an important opportunity to restart the negotiations.”
The issue of Iran inevitably arose, with both sides agreeing that the economic noose should continue to be tightened around the country’s neck. Hollande specifically said that it was incumbent upon the international community to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. “France’s position is that we should strengthen the economic sanctions against Iran, they are effective, they are working and we have no doubt that if Iran continues to develop nuclear weapons, the international community, not Israel, will bear the responsibility to stop it! Iran is not just a danger to Israel but a danger to the Gulf Region, to Europe and to the whole world.”
Hezbollah has become a source of friction between Israel and the European Union, which has thus far refused to designate the Lebanense movement as a terror organization. Hollande said, however, that the position of the European Union regarding Hezbollah was still up for debate and that it will be determined by the findings of the investigation in Bulgaria over the bus bombing last year, thought to have been committed by Hezbollah, that killed 6, 5 of whom were Israeli citizens, in Burgas, Bulgaria.
At the conclusion of the press conference President Hollande said that he intends to visit Israel this year.
Peres is in Paris to conduct a series of meetings with French members of parliament, leaders of the Jewish community in France and business leaders. On Tuesday President Peres will deliver a historic speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, becoming the first Israeli leader to deliver a speech before the full plenum of the EU Parliament in its current format.