Hollande's historic visit in the footsteps of his predecessors

Hollande’s visit expected to be friendlier than those of previous French presidents who often voiced opposition to Israeli policies.

By JOSEPH STRICH
November 18, 2013 02:48
2 minute read.
France's President Francois Hollande addresses the UN General Assembly, September 24, 2013.

Francois Hollande addressing UN 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Andrew Burton/Pool)

 
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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.

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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 French industry.

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 co-signatory.

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 pro-Palestinian.”



Instead, the daily newspaper Le Monde seems to believe he is “a follower of compromise,” implying that this visit is not “simply diplomatic.”

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 importance.”

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 Monde.

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.”

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