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French lawmakers debate recognising Palestinian state

French lawmakers debated a proposal on Friday to recognise Palestine as a state in a move aimed at pushing for "a definitive resolution of the conflict". The non-binding motion is expected to pass a lower house vote December 2.

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French officials have said that extending state recognition to the Palestinian territories could help promote peace between the Palestinians and Israel. The text "invites the French government to use the recognition of the state of Palestine as an instrument to gain a definitive resolution of the conflict".

The motion, which is non-binding, is expected to pass comfortably on December 2 when the lower house of parliament votes on the text proposed by the ruling Socialists.

The vote comes soon after similar resolutions approved by British lawmakers on October 13 and Spanish MPs on November 18, and the formal recognition of Palestine by Sweden on October 30.

Speaking to parliament, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France was prepared to host international talks to drive the peace process forward.

"An international conference could be organised – France is prepared to take the initiative on this – and in these talks, recognition [of the Palestinian state] would be an instrument ... for the definitive resolution of the conflict," he said.

"If these efforts fail, if this last attempt at a negotiated settlement does not work, then France will have to do its duty and recognise the state of Palestine without delay," said Fabius.

The Socialist MP who drafted the text, Elisabeth Guigou, said the aim was to "reaffirm that the two-state solution is the best guarantee for peace".

"If we do not act now, there is a risk of entering into an irreversible cycle of violence and transforming this territorial conflict into a regional conflict," she told AFP.

"Nothing would be worse for the region and for Europe."

Ahead of the vote, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned France it would be making a "grave mistake" if it recognised Palestine.

"Do they have nothing better to do, at a time of beheadings across the Middle East, including that of a French citizen?" he said in comments to reporters in Jerusalem on November 23 and referring to hiker Hervé Gourdel, who was executed by his jihadist captors in Algeria in September.

As French lawmakers began Friday’s debate, some 150 pro-Israel demonstrators gathered outside parliament to protest the potential of France recognising a Palestinian state.

“No to a decision that encourages terrorists,” one of the signs said, while another read: “no to a fiction state”.

On the eve of the parliamentary debate, President François Hollande told French media he wanted to host an international conference "to find a solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“France must take the initiative to find a diplomatic solution” to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict “that has been going on for decades”, he told FRANCE 24.

'Climate of anti-Semitism'

Guigou stressed that France – which has both Europe's largest Muslim population and its largest Jewish community – had good relations with both the Palestinians and the Israelis.

"We are not going to tip the balance by voting for this motion. On the contrary, we have reaffirmed several times the need for mutual and reciprocal recognition and the need for security guarantees for Israel," she said.

Reflecting the sensitivity of the subject in France, parliament is expected to be divided, with the right-wing opposition UMP party expected to vote against the motion.

France was the scene of several pro-Palestinian demonstrations against Israel during this summer's 50-day offensive by the Israeli army in Gaza that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and dozens of Israelis.

Some of these turned violent, with looters in July destroying Jewish business and shouting anti-Israel obscenities in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles – sometimes known as "Little Jerusalem" for its large community of Sephardic Jews.

The Jewish Agency for Israel, an advocacy group, said in September that more Jews had left France for Israel than from any other country in 2014, blaming a "climate of anti-Semitism".

Fabius has insisted that any resolution "must be useful for efforts to break the deadlock and contribute to a final resolution of the conflict", warning against a purely symbolic gesture.

"If it's a state on paper that doesn't exist in reality, that will offer nothing to the Palestinians," he told French radio.

The Palestinian Authority estimates that 134 countries have now recognised Palestine as a state, although this number is disputed and several of those recognitions by what are now European Union member states date back to the Soviet era.

France was among 14 EU nations that voted in favour of granting Palestinian territories observer status at the United Nations in November 2012.

Palestinians seek statehood in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as their capital – lands captured by Israel in a 1967 war, although Israeli soldiers and settlers withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

The Palestinians are planning to formally submit to the UN Security Council a draft resolution calling for an Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territory in 2016.

The latest round of fitful efforts to forge a two-state solution collapsed in April and Palestinians now see little choice but to push unilaterally for statehood and have encouraged international steps to recognise it.

Tension has risen between Palestinians and Israelis in recent weeks as disputes have mounted over Jewish access to one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites, revered by Muslims as Noble Sanctuary, where al-Aqsa mosque stands, and by Jews as the Temple Mount, where their biblical temples once stood.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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