Hollande arrives late but with plenty of praise for Peres

French President to Peres: “There are many miracles in Israel, and you are one of them... you are a great friend of France, who always wanted to maintain good relations with France because of our mutual values.”

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November 18, 2013 02:29
François Hollande shakes hands with members of a children’s chorus, Nov. 17, 2013

Peres and Hollande greet kids 370. (photo credit: Presidents Residence)

Notwithstanding the intricate planning that went into his first presidential visit to Israel, French President François Hollande was running late.

Media representatives had been told not to arrive later than 1 p.m. at the official residence of President Shimon Peres, where Hollande and his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, were to be welcomed for the second time in a span of some two hours.

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Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had been at the airport to welcome Hollande and his 200 member entourage, but for the sake of protocol, there had to be another official welcome from president to president.

Forty children ages six to 11 had been rehearsing a song at the presidential complex for Hollande’s arrival since before noon. The mothers of three of them hovered anxiously.

Just before 2:50 p.m., which was Hollande’s original designated arrival time, a helicopter circled above several times and disappeared. A member of the president’s staff announced that the new arrival time was 3:15. The helicopter returned before that time, but it took another ten minutes before Hollande’s motorcade came through the gates, escorted by a phalanx of police on motorcycles.

Peres was waiting on the somewhat frayed red carpet to greet him, after having first chatted to most of the children.

The two presidents and Trierweiler remained on the red carpet for a triple trumpet fanfare, executed by a member of the Border Police along with two regular policemen whose uniforms were supplemented by the tzitzit (ritual tassels) dangling from their waists.

The official party remained in place until the children had sung their welcome song.

Hollande’s entourage came straight from the airport, and because not everyone was accompanying him to Yad Vashem or to his meeting with Netanyahu, several people were trundling suitcases, to go from the President’s Residence to their hotels.

When responding to Peres’s greetings, Hollande recalled the president’s recent visit to France and invited him to come again to celebrate Israel’s next Independence Day.

“There are many miracles in Israel, and you are one of them,” he said. “You are a great friend of France, who always wanted to maintain good relations with France because of our mutual values.”

Hollande noted that Peres had met with every French President since Charles de Gaulle, whom the Israeli president met in his first visit to France with David Ben-Gurion. Hollande said that Peres’s subsequent meetings with French presidents had not only been of a political, defense or economic nature, but had also delved into intellectual and cultural spheres.

Hollande said that his government was determined to fight racism and anti-Semitism, referring to a recent upsurge in these evils in his country.

He reiterated France’s policy on Iran’s nuclear project. He said that a nuclear Iran would be a threat to Israel and to the whole world, and that while France was interested in an agreement being reached with Iran and would prefer a diplomatic solution, “which is always best,” this would come about only if Iran abandoned its plans for nuclear weapons.

With regard to Syria, Hollande emphasized the importance of eliminating its chemical weapons. He also spoke of the urgency of stopping the civil war in Syria, as what is happening there affects the whole region – especially Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey which he said have been flooded with tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.

Hollande said that he advocates a political solution for Syria, but warned of the need to get rid of extremists and terrorists. France is fighting terrorism on many fronts, he underscored, specifically referring to Mali, which had previously been mentioned by Peres.

The French president said he was pleased to report that as a result of France’s intervention, “for which we paid a heavy price,” the threat of terrorism in Mali had almost dissipated.

He said that France continued to support all African states in their battles with terrorism, and would be hosting a major anti-terror conference in Paris next month focused on helping African countries protect themselves against terrorists.

Concluding his address with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Hollande commended Peres for being a tireless fighter for peace “but not at every price.” He said that conditions would have to be created to make peace attainable, and that it must be a just peace.

Endorsing the two state solution, Hollande said that when an agreement was finally reached, it would need be free of additional grievances and requests by either side, and that steps should be taken to ensure that the Palestinian state would be economically viable.

He expressed confidence that if Peres, the State of Israel, the Palestinians and all those who fight for peace were to put their combined strength together, a peace agreement would be reached.

“There is no greater victory than winning the battle for peace,” he said.

Peres said in his remarks that he would not forget that Hollande had said at Ben- Gurion Airport that he would always be a friend of Israel’s.

Peres reviewed the history of France’s friendship with Israel.

He said that it had stood by Israel’s side and supported Israel in times of its greatest difficulties. He commended France for opening its ports to Holocaust survivors so that they could travel to Israel, and he praised it for supplying Israel with arms for selfdefense in the aftermath of the UN resolution for the partition of Palestine, “when we were so few against the many.” Peres’s examples of this friendship extending to the present day, with the two countries’ unity on the subject of Iran.

The president further lauded France for its contributions to the peace process: creating the economic infrastructure in the Palestinian Authority, including the industrial park in Bethlehem, and playing a key role in the European Union’s decision to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

Peres was adamant that peace could no longer be delayed. “We cannot afford to miss this opportunity for peace,” he said.

Hollande joined Peres in planting a cedar, in a tradition that was inaugurated in May 2009 when Pope Benedict XVI and Peres planted an olive tree in the garden. President Barack Obama planted a magnolia tree with Peres when he was in Israel in March.

Following the tree-planting, Peres and Hollande held a tête-à-tête, after which Hollande signed the guest book, which sat at a table that had once belonged to British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli.

Peres and Netanyahu both accompanied Hollande to Yad Vashem, giving him the same deferential treatment that was accorded to Obama.


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