Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday cautiously welcomed a French proposal to convene Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Paris to try to renew collapsed peace talks.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe this week offered to host talks to discuss ideas for a Palestinian state raised last month by US President Barack Obama, aiming to avert a showdown at the United Nations in September.
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"We said that in principle that this initiative is acceptable," Abbas said, two days after his talks with Juppe in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Under the plan discussed with Juppe, "neither side would carry out unilateral actions," Abbas added.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has yet to respond publicly to the French proposal, has rejected any withdrawal to the borders existing before Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war, insisting such a frontier would be "indefensible."
In a statement after Netanyahu met with Juppe on Saturday the prime minister said he asked France to continue efforts to secure the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas since June 2006.
France 'slightly optimistic'
"I would be lying if I said I was very optimistic. I am slightly optimistic," Juppe said after his talks with Netanyahu.
Israel is holding consultations with Washington on how to handle the French proposal. Jerusalem is likely to demand several amendments to the French initiative which includes the outline President Obama presented in his Middle East speech.
'Situation will be very difficult in September'
The French proposal calls for Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to meet this month or by early July with an eye to reviving talks which broke off last year in a dispute on Jewish settlement building on lands Palestinians seek for a state.
The Palestinians plan to unilaterally seek UN recognition of statehood in September – a step Israel strongly opposes fearing it could end up isolated internationally.
The United States has already said it opposes the plan, which could kill off the initiative in the Security Council before it can reach the General Assembly.
France, which is also one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, has not yet decided whether to back the Palestinians, Juppe said.
"We are convinced that if nothing happens here between now and September the situation will be very difficult for everyone at the time of the United Nations General Assembly," Juppe said during his visit this week.
"We have to avoid such a situation and the only way to avoid it is to do what we are proposing, that's to say return to the (negotiating) table," Juppe said.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report
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