French President François Hollande's speech to the Knesset Monday, which began with fanfare and ended with a standing ovation, stuck to mostly noncontroversial messages but sparked the ire of some MKs on the right when he discussed talks with the Palestinians and said Jerusalem must be the joint capital of Israel and a future Palestinian state.
The French president called for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to “be realistic” and look for creative solutions to end the conflict, saying settlement construction must end.
This brought applause from from left-wing and Arab parties.
“We need a compromise through a two-state solution.
Peace will be your biggest victory,” he said, adding in Hebrew: “May there be peace for the people of Israel.”
Hollande reaffirmed his commitment to preventing Iran from reaching nuclear capability and to the strong relationship between his country and Israel.
He received applause from nearly all the MKs in the plenum when he said “France will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”
France will make sure sanctions continue until Tehran gives up its plan to develop nuclear weapons, he said.
“We have to do everything to solve the [Iran nuclear] crisis, first of all through diplomacy to reach an agreement and avoid sparking a fire,” he said. “Iran must show measurable concessions.”
Hollande, who arrived with an entourage that included dozens of French businessmen, politicians and journalists, as well as his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, gave a speech rife with praise for the Jewish people and Israel.
“France wouldn’t be what it is today if it didn’t give equal rights to Jews in 1791 and if the Jewish community did not flourish and does not continue to do so,” he said.
“Throughout the generations, Jews enriched the world and they continue to do so in the State of Israel.”
Hollande promised that as president of the country with the largest Jewish community in Europe, he will “not rest in fighting anti-Semitism.”
“France proved that it is persistent in fighting terror, and I have no intention to compromise.
We will do everything to stop terror, which will not go unpunished,” he said, paying tribute to the victims of the 2012 shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse.
The French president also expressed hope that his country would cooperate with Israel in scientific research and technological innovation.
“You built a prosperous economy on an infertile land and kept the pioneering spirit and lead in technology,” Hollande said. “They say you’re the world champion of startups.
Israel itself is a start-up!” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu began his speech by welcoming Hollande to “Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years.”
Netanyahu called in his speech for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the Knesset, and offered to go to Ramallah to “break the ice.”
Still, Netanyahu said, “our enemies wanted to throw us out of our land, but they didn’t succeed and we founded the State of Israel. When the state was founded, they didn’t stop trying to reach their goal, but France helped us and stood by us.”
The prime minister added that “real peace” had to go “both ways.”
“We cannot ask the Jewish people to recognize a Palestinian nation-state without demanding that the Palestinians recognize the nation-state of the Jewish people,” he said.
Netanyahu was unusually brief in discussing Iran, focusing much of his speech on France’s contributions to the world, listing philosophers, medical researchers, artists and more.
He called French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau an early Zionist, quoting him as saying that Rome, Athens and Sparta fell, but the Jewish people survived and would be truly free only when Jews could express themselves in their own political system and universities.
In reference to the increasing anti-Semitism in France, Netanyahu said: “I know my friend François [Hollande] is working firmly and steadily to fight this phenomenon. No attempt to scare us or uproot us from here will succeed. The State of Israel is strong and the Jewish people live on.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who said three weeks ago that Hollande was unwelcome at the Knesset when the French leader hinted he would not speak to lawmakers, now took a more conciliatory tone.
Edelstein commended Hollande for his “humane, moral stance” on the Iranian threat, which he said “fits with France’s values and interests.”
“You show courageous leadership and high morals in your unwavering stance on Iran,” the speaker said.
Hollande made a reference to the narrowly avoided diplomatic incident, thanking Edelstein in his speech and quipping: “I know you so wanted me to be here.”
Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich referred to the values she shared with Hollande – both being leaders of social-democratic parties – and praised him for signing a bill allowing gay marriage and mentioning that the Labor Party had proposed similar legislation.
“Enlightened countries recognize a government’s need to ensure justice and morals, and an example of this in France is a law that rewards small and medium businesses for employing young workers, as long as they’re not replacing an old worker,” Yacimovich said. “This is wonderful because it encourages small and medium businesses, makes sure young people are employed and does not leave older people behind. It allows for businesses to grow and is concerned with individuals. It’s inspiring.”
The Labor leader also discussed her party’s views on the peace process, saying they were very different from those of the government, although if there were to be a breakthrough Labor would support Netanyahu.
After the speeches, Yacimovich and Hollande held a one-on-one meeting. The two met previously in Paris at an international conference of social-democratic party leaders.