Francois Hollande addressing UN 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Andrew Burton/Pool)
In the footsteps of his predecessors Francois Mitterrand (1981, 1992), Jacques
Chirac (1996) and Nicolas Sarkozy (2008), French President François Hollande
commenced a historic visit to Israel on Sunday.
It is his longest trip
abroad thus far as head of state, lasting three days, including half a day in
the Palestinian territories, and was immediately described by the media as a
“première” of major importance.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
described the visit as being made by “a close friend of Israel,” adding that he
awaited the visit with “impatience.”
Hollande’s entourage consists of his
partner, Valérie Trieweiler, half-a-dozen ministers and prominent directors of
The economic delegation includes the leaders of Ariane
Espace, Bouygues Telecom, Orange and SNCF, who will participate in talks to form
better economic relations between the two countries.
This trip starts a
week after Paris proclaimed its “uncompromising position” during the
negotiations concerning the Iranian nuclear program and just before a possible
signing of an international agreement with Tehran, with France as a
Is the French president closest to Jerusalem or Ramallah?
One of his colleagues is advising the media not to “play little games about
knowing whether the head of state is pro-Israeli or
Instead, the daily newspaper Le Monde seems to believe
he is “a follower of compromise,” implying that this visit is not “simply
The paper also suggested that if Chirac, president between
1995 and 2007, could have been described as pro-Arab, then the years of Sarkozy,
president between 2007 and 2012, showed a noticeable “warming up” of the
relations between France and Israel. Now it is expected that the new socialist
turn of office in Paris will follow “a delicate diplomatic equilibrium between
Israel and Palestine where symbolic manifestations have such great
This is demonstrated by the parallel visits to the graves of
Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.
At the Elysée Palace, the trip to Israel
is considered a great event.
“It is a formal visit, most probably the
only one [to Israel] during this five-year presidency. We are not going to throw
a firecracker into the middle of Israeli-Palestine discussions,” wrote Le
Charles Enderlin, the France 2 correspondent in Jerusalem,
predicts: “There should not be any surprise.”
Surely there will be
nothing like 1982, when Mitterand declared he was in favor of a Palestinian
state, or as in 1996, when Chirac was very angered by the security measures
imposed by the Israeli security services during his visit to the Old City of
Jerusalem. Nor will there be anything like Sarkozy’s plea in the Knesset for the
division of Jerusalem to form the “capital of two nations,” which seemed to
contradict his supposed pro-Israel attitude.
No surprises are expected
then, not even from the other side, such as the stones thrown at then-French
prime minister Lionel Jospin’s head at Bir Zeit University in February 2000
after he described Hezbollah as “terrorists.”