New date sought for Paris peace summit: Israel
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A planned Israeli-Palestinian summit due to be held in Paris by the end of the month has been rescheduled, the Israeli prime minister's office said on Saturday, a sign of increased strain over stalled peace talks.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to meet before the end of October, although an exact date for the summit had not been set.
"Following joint consultations it has been agreed to set a new date for the preparatory meeting," a statement from Netanyahu's office said, adding there was no chance of holding it on Oct 21, which was previously thought to be possible.
"We are looking for a new date that works for everybody, although there is nothing firm scheduled yet," an Israeli government official told Reuters.
The talks were intended to prepare for a summit in late November of leaders from European and Mediterranean countries including Middle East players, Sarkozy said when he announced his invitation at the end of September.
It would have been a first face-to-face meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas since the two restarted direct peace talks backed by the United States in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt on Sept 2 -- talks that have since reached a standstill.
The Palestinians called off the direct talks when a 10-month Israeli freeze on new home building in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank expired at the end of September.
Netanyahu, who heads a government dominated by pro-settler parties, has so far resisted U.S. pressure to extend the freeze and said last week the Palestinians should recognize Israel as a Jewish state to secure such a gesture.
Abbas repeated the Palestinians' longstanding rejection of that idea, which would amount to a major concession on an issue at the core of the six-decade-old conflict by effectively ruling out any return of Palestinian refugees to what is now Israel.
Peace efforts appeared to run into further complications on Thursday when Israel issued building tenders for 238 housing units in East Jerusalem, which infuriated the Palestinians and which the United States said was "contrary" to peace efforts.
The building plan envisages more construction in two densely-populated Jewish "neighborhoods," as Israel refers to them, in East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank that it has annexed as part of its capital, a move that has never won international recognition.
The Israeli government official told Reuters that the new buildings would go up in parts of Jerusalem that Israel was planning to retain in any future peace deal.
"This construction is taking place in neighborhoods that in every peace plan that has been put on the table in the last two decades would stay as part of Israel and therefore it in no way contradicts the goal of reaching a historic peace agreement with the Palestinians," the official said.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement on Friday that by agreeing to publish further building plans, Netanyahu "has made his choice -- settlements over peace," and has "demonstrated why there are no negotiations today."
Some 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas they want as part of a future state but where nearly 500,000 Jews also live in more than 100 settlements. The World Court deems settlements illegal but Israel disputes this.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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