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  • French Prime Minister Manuel Valls

    French Prime Minister Manuel Valls | Photo: AFP

Manuel Valls is visiting Israel-Palestine to jumpstart stalled peace negotiations. He told a Palestinian newspaper that illegal Israeli settlements "must stop."

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was Sunday in Israel to advance his country's plan to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts in the face of opposition from his counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Valls is to meet Netanyahu on Monday before travelling to Ramallah on Tuesday to hold talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians have been at a standstill since a U.S. initiative collapsed in April 2014.

In an interview with Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam published Sunday, Valls said that Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank must stop. But he also reiterated that his government would not automatically recognize a Palestinian state if the peace initiative failed.

A threat to do so was made in January by former Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, angering the Israeli government. His successor Jean-Marc Ayrault has since backed away from the statement.

Settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law and built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

"Stopping settlements is an imperative," he said. "Because we cannot both want to discuss peace and be sincere in the negotiations and at the same time continue to create facts on the ground."

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Valls' visit comes at a time of political turbulence in Israel, with Netanyahu expected to soon finalize negotiations with the party of hardliner Avigdor Lieberman, detested by the Palestinians, to join his coalition.

Lieberman, who lives in a settlement in the occupied West Bank, is expected to take on the key role of defense minister. Hundreds protested his appointment in Tel Aviv on Sunday.

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