Notwithstanding the intricate planning that went into his first presidential
visit to Israel, French President François Hollande was running
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Hollande said that his government was determined to fight racism
and anti-Semitism, referring to a recent upsurge in these evils in his
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
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
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
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
“There is no greater victory than winning the battle for peace,”
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
Peres reviewed the history of France’s friendship with
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
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
Peres and Netanyahu both accompanied Hollande to Yad Vashem,
giving him the same deferential treatment that was accorded to Obama.