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Olmert Seeks French Backing for West Bank Pullout Plan


Israeli and French leaders met in Paris Wednesday to discuss controversial Israeli plans to withdraw from the West Bank, among other issues. The main message being sent by French President Jacques Chirac and other Europeans is for peace negotiations to resume.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to Paris Wednesday is his first to France as Israel's new leader, and part of a European tour to convince governments to back an Israeli plan to pull out of much of the West Bank, even if Israel does not reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Olmert sought similar backing from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, during talks in London earlier this week. But Mr. Blair stressed negotiations with the Palestinians, rather than unilateral withdrawals. And during remarks to reporters in Paris Wednesday, Mr. Chirac said pretty much the same thing.

Standing beside Mr. Olmert at the Elysee Presidential Palace, President Chirac said restoring peace in the region was essential. Peace, he said, presumes two states, an Israeli and a Palestinian one, living side by side. And reaching that goal means resuming negotiations between the two sides.

Even as Mr. Olmert expressed his support for the two-state plan, he reiterated that certain conditions were necessary for negotiations to resume. Among them: That the Hamas-dominated Palestinian government recognize the state of Israel, renounce violence and agree to previous peace agreements.

Hamas has yet to accept these conditions and the European Union and the United States have suspended millions of dollars of aid until it does.

Mr. Olmert's visit to France included dedicating a new Holocaust memorial in Paris. Relations between France and Israel have been rocky in the past. France is perceived as being biased toward the Palestinian cause. A spike in anti-Semitic attacks in France has also created friction in bilateral relations.