BY | September 12, 2013

PARIS: French President Francois Hollande held a round of talks here Thursday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the Middle East peace process and the regional situation, diplomatic sources said.

It was the third meeting between Hollande and Abbas since the French leader was elected in May 2012. The last time the two men met in Paris was on July 6, 2012.

During the meeting, official sources said the French leader informed Abbas that he will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories on November 18-19, presumably to add his weight to the peace efforts that have just resumed, official sources said.

In comments to the press, Abbas expressed renewed hope that the current peace talks with Israel “would be successful.” But almost 20 years to the day since the Oslo agreements were cemented with a handshake between the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin on the White House Lawn, optimism is still hard to find in view of the ongoing obstacles to an agreement.

Primarily, the Israeli settlement construction programme is still being actively pursued, even though it was this activity that scuttled the last round of talks which broke down in 2010.

On Thursday, Abbas, while thanking Hollande for his constant support on this issue, urged more pressure to be put on Israel to stop the expansion of settlements on occupied Arab land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The sources added that Hollande reiterated his support for a “two-State solution” within the 1967 parameters and he urged the negotiating parties to strive to find an agreement.

The two leaders also discussed bilateral relations and vowed to continue cooperation in a number of areas.

France is one of the most active financial backers of the Palestinian Authority and has been heavily involved in assisting Ramallah with investments, economic reforms and institutional preparations for statehood.

Palestine is now ready to function as a fully-fledged State, according to evaluations by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and indeed in the view of the French.

The two men also discussed the regional situation, in particular the Syrian crisis and Abbas urged the warring parties to seek a peaceful solution and settle their differences at a peace conference, tentatively planned for Geneva, but which has been postponed since June because of the fighting. Before Paris, Abbas met last weekend in London with the peace- talks broker, US Secretary-of-State John Kerry, and he also had talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

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