Abbas lauds prisoner exchange, criticizes Israeli housing plans

Story highlights

  • Abbas is in France to shore up support for statehood
  • Israel says Palestinian statehood is premature without direct talks
  • A U.N. committee is expected to issue a report on its analysis soon
  • U.S. officials have vowed to block the measure
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, meeting Friday with his French counterpart, lauded an upcoming prisoner exchange and decried what he said were Israeli plans to expand housing in settlements.
Abbas and French President Nicolas Sarkozy also discussed the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations. France is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
Israel and Hamas leaders said this week they have brokered a deal to swap roughly 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas more than five years ago.
"I want them to see their families, their homes," Abbas said in a speech. "Of course, this makes us feel very happy."
Abbas said Shalit is an Israeli-French national. "France provided so many efforts in order to get his release," the Palestinian leader said.
He also criticized Israel for new housing.
"Israel seems to be determined to keep colonizing," Abbas said, contending the nation has plans for 2,600 more units. Peace Now, an Israeli settler watchdog group, said housing is planned for East Jerusalem.
Abbas recently concluded a three-country Latin American tour intended to shore up support for the statehood bid.
Abbas made the bid for the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state last month, a move Israel says is premature without direct talks that address its longstanding security concerns. A U.N. committee is expected to issue a report on its analysis of the historic Palestinian bid soon.
If a majority of the committee says the prospective Palestinian state fulfills the U.N. charter's requirements, it will send the application back to the full Security Council for a vote. The Palestinians would then need nine of 15 votes in their favor, and no veto from any of the five countries that are permanent members of the Security Council.
U.S. officials have vowed to block the measure, though they most likely want to avoid an American veto out of concern over a potential backlash across the Middle East.
The General Assembly, however, could still vote to upgrade the status of Palestinians, who currently hold the status of nonvoting observer "entity." The body could change that status to permanent observer "state," identical to the Vatican's standing at the United Nations.
Abbas' effort to gain U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state is also opposed by Hamas, the Palestinian organization that controls Gaza.