French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Wednesday that the new construction starts in Jerusalem's Jewish neighborhoods are not an obstacle to peace.
Earlier this week, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee authorized the construction of 900 new housing units in Gilo. The Jerusalem neighborhood is located in the southeastern section of the capital.
"I understood that it was not a political decision. It need not be an obstacle to returning to [Israel-Palestinian Authority] negotiations," Kouchner explained following meetings with Israeli leaders. At the same time, he stated that "France is opposed in principle to construction in the settlements."
The position taken by Kouchner regarding the Gilo housing project is in opposition to that of the United States. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly had both earlier expressed the U.S. Administration's view that "these actions make it more difficult" to restart Israel-PA negotiations. Like the U.S., Saudi Arabia also called Jewish housing in Jerusalem a "major obstacle in the way of the peace process."
Israelis Are United on Jerusalem
Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with Kouchner in Jerusalem on Wednesday for talks on bilateral and regional issues, including those relating to Iran, Syria, Lebanon and the PA.
Regarding Gilo, Lieberman told Kouchner that the neighborhood is an integral part of Jerusalem and Israel. In that respect, he emphasized, it is identical to Tel Aviv and Herzliya. The Israeli government will not intervene in the municipality's construction approval process, which strictly adheres to the procedural regulations of the State of Israel.
Knesset Member Tzipi Livni, head of the opposition Kadima party, echoed Foreign Minister Lieberman in her own talks with Kouchner. She said that Israelis are united regarding Jerusalem. They will not accept a freeze imposed on construction in the capital's Jewish neighborhoods, she explained.
Hope for Shalit's Release is 'Justified'
Regarding Iran, Foreign Minister Lieberman thanked Foreign Minister Kouchner for France's fundamental and consistent position regarding the necessity of preventing the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons.
In a meeting with reporters, Kouchner also touched on the efforts to release abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas captivity in Gaza. The French minister said that he is aware that "there has been progress" on the matter. Kouchner said that the hope of freeing Gilad, who also holds French citizenship, "is more justified now than in the past."