French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Wednesday on the United Nations to admit Palestine as a non-member state, upgrading its status as a simple observer but opposing a Palestinian bid for full membership.

"/> French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Wednesday on the United Nations to admit Palestine as a non-member state, upgrading its status as a simple observer but opposing a Palestinian bid for full membership.

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ISRAEL

Sarkozy to UN: admit Palestine as non-member

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Wednesday on the United Nations to admit Palestine as a non-member state, upgrading its status as a simple observer but opposing a Palestinian bid for full membership.

Sarkozy to UN: admit Palestine as non-member
Kenji Baptiste (file)

In a speech to the UN General Assembly, Sarkozy also called for “one year to reach a definitive agreement” between Israel and the Palestinians, saying the usual US-led peace process should not bypass European, Arab or other countries. 

Aiming to avoid a showdown, Sarkozy sought a middle road between the Palestinian plan to ask the UN Security Council to admit Palestine as a full state and the US determination to block the effort with a veto, which he warned would be dangerous.

“Each of us knows that Palestine cannot immediately obtain full and complete recognition of the status of United Nations member state. The first reason for this is the lack of trust between the main parties,” Sarkozy said.

“But who could doubt that a veto at the Security Council risks engendering a cycle of violence in the Middle East?” the French leader said.

“Must we therefore exclude an intermediate stage? Why not envisage offering Palestine the status of United Nations observer state? This would be an important step forward,” Sarkozy said.

“Most important, it would mean emerging from a state of immobility that favours only the extremists. We would be restoring hope by marking progress towards the final status.”

Under UN rules, any bid for full membership requires a recommendation from the Security Council and then a two-thirds majority in the 193-member General Assembly.

Non-member status would require only a straight majority in the General Assembly where no veto is possible.

It would also give the Palestinians access to international organizations like the World Health Organization and perhaps the International Criminal Court.

The French leader later met with US President Barack Obama who has insisted that only negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians can forge a lasting peace.

Obama did not comment on the French leader’s proposals, but Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor, said Sarkozy’s suggestions were “important” and “constructive.”

But he added there were differences over the role of the United Nations in the process.

“President Sarkozy is a leader who speaks his mind, who speaks directly, who puts forward ideas,” Rhodes said.

“It is indicative of his interest in trying to catalyze the process. There are issues of commonality that we can work with the French on around the need to get back to negotiations.

“There are a lot of areas where we think we can work with the French even as we have had a different view on the UN.”

Sarkozy had also called for greater involvement of the international community in the peace process, suggesting the process led by the United States, Israel’s top ally, was leading nowhere.

He appeared to imply that the role of the Diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East — composed of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — was not enough to find a peaceful settlement.

“Let us stop believing that a single country or a small group of countries can resolve so complex a problem. Too many crucial players have been sidelined for our efforts to succeed,” he said.

“After so many failures, who still believes that the peace process can succeed” without Europe, without all the Security Council’s permanent members, and without the Arab states that “have chosen peace?” Sarkozy asked.

The French leader also called for a timeline for negotiations, which stalled weeks after they were relaunched by President Barack Obama’s administration in September last year.

“One month to resume discussions; six months to find an agreement on borders and security; and one year to reach a definitive agreement,” he said.

Like Obama, he said negotiations should lead to two states, including a Palestinian nation based on the boundaries that existed before the 1967 war but with agreed land swaps to account for some Jewish settlements.

But his proposals met with a lukewarm reaction from German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle who said they were “not a surprise for us” as they contained elements which had already been discussed in the international community.

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SARKOZY

Corruption trial begins for France’s ex president Sarkozy

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy goes on trial on Monday on charges of trying to bribe a judge, in what could be a humiliating postscript to a political career tainted by a litany of legal investigations.

Corruption trial begins for France's ex president Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

Though he is not the first modern head of state in the dock – his predecessor and political mentor Jacques Chirac was convicted of embezzlement – Sarkozy is the first to face corruption charges.

He fought furiously over the past six years to have the case thrown out, and has denounced “a scandal that will go down in history”.

“I am not a crook,” the 65-year-old, whose combative style has made him one of France's most popular rightwing politicians, told BFM TV this month.

Prosecutors say Sarkozy promised the judge a plush job in Monaco in exchange for inside information on an inquiry into claims that Sarkozy accepted illicit payments from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.

Their case rests in large part on wiretaps of phone conversations between Sarkozy and his longtime lawyer Thierry Herzog, which judges authorised as prosecutors also looked into suspected Libyan financing of Sarkozy's 2007 campaign.

That inquiry is still underway, though Sarkozy caught a break this month when his main accuser, the French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, suddenly retracted his claim of delivering millions of euros in cash from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Sarkozy and Herzog have assailed the taps on their phones as a breach of client-attorney privilege, but in 2016 a top court upheld their use as evidence.

Charged with bribery and influence peddling, Sarkozy risks a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of €1 million.

Herzog, a leading member of the Paris bar, faces the same charges as well as violation of professional secrecy. The trial is expected to last three weeks.

'A boost'

Investigators discovered that Sarkozy used an alias – Paul Bismuth – to buy a private phone for conversing secretly with his lawyer.

On around a dozen occasions, they discussed reaching out to a top French judge, Gilbert Azibert, a general counsel at the Cour de Cassation, France's top appeals court for criminal and civil cases.

Prosecutors say Azibert, who is also on trial, was tasked with trying to obtain information from the Cour de Cassation lawyer in charge of the Bettencourt inquiry, and to induce him to seek a verdict in Sarkozy's favour.

In exchange, Sarkozy would use his extensive contacts to give “a boost” to Azibert's efforts to secure the cushy Monaco post.

“He's been working on it,” Herzog tells Sarkozy in a call from early 2014.
Azibert was already considered a leading candidate for the job, but “if you give him a boost, it's always better,” Herzog says in another.

“I'll make him move up,” Sarkozy tells Herzog, according to the indictment by prosecutors, who compared his actions to those of a “seasoned offender”.

But later, Sarkozy tells his lawyer that he would not “approach” the  Monaco authorities on Azibert's behalf — a sign, according to prosecutors, that the two men had been tipped off about the wiretaps.

“Mr Azibert never got any post in Monaco,” Sarkozy told BFM television this month – though under French law, just an offer or promise can constitute corruption.

Still in limelight

Sarkozy, a lawyer by training, has long accused the French judiciary of waging a vendetta against him, not least because of his attempts to limit judges' powers and criticism that they are too soft on delinquents.

He will again be back in court in March 2021 along with 13 other people over claims of campaign finance violations during his unsuccessful 2012 re-election bid.

Prosecutors accuse Sarkozy's team of using a fake-invoices scheme orchestrated by the public relations firm Bygmalion to spend nearly €43 million on the lavish run – nearly twice the legal limit.

The long-running legal travails hindered his comeback bid for the 2017 presidential vote, losing out as the rightwing nominee to his former prime minister François Fillon.

Yet like other former French presidents, Sarkozy has surfed a wave of popularity since announcing his retirement from politics in 2018, pressing the flesh with enthusiastic crowds at his public appearances.

Lines of fans queued over the summer to have him sign his latest memoirs, “The Time of Storms”, which topped best-seller lists for weeks.

SEE ALSO: Sarkozy accused of racism after 'monkey' comment

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