Jerusalem old city 88.
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A delegation of French senators arrived here yesterday to take part in a familiarization program aimed at removing misconceptions and prejudices harbored by French politicians, with the hope that this experience will be able to reenergize Franco-Israeli relations.
The parliamentarians, who are being hosted by the MedBridge Strategy Center and the World Jewish Congress, will be visiting Jerusalem and Ramallah to survey and experience the Middle East situation in the hope the realities of the conflict will speak for themselves.
"This is not a trip for supporters but rather one which aims to make friends for Israel out of people previously hostile to it," MedBridge Organization officials said in a statement. MedBridge added the organization hopes to create a coherent and practical understanding for European leaders regarding the situation in the Middle East, vital for brokering any future peace agreement.
The senators arrived just days after the departure of the French commander of UNIFIL, Alain Pellegrini. Pellegrini, who has openly voiced his dissatisfaction with the IDF and Israeli policy, is just the latest French official to be less than captivated by Israel. The timing of the group's visit to coincide with Pellegrini's departure and President Jacques Chirac's comments on a nuclear Iran this week should provide the delegation with an interesting agenda. The visit may ultimately also impact on the stance of the French Foreign Ministry regarding Israel.
It is also hoped that the MedBridge experiment can also serve as a beneficial lesson for the campaigns of both Segolene Royale and Nicholas Sarkozy, the forerunners in the French presidential race which will be decided in April.
Among the participating delegates are Secretary of the Senate Yvon Collin; VP for the delegation of the European Union Simon Sutour; and VP of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committees Jean-Pierre Plancade, the latter two are members of the Conservative party.
The insights they may acquire while in Israel could offer party leaders some new perspective into the Middle East situation, an area her critics say she badly needs to be schooled in.
Jean Arthuis, a member of Sarkozy's UMP party and chairman of the Finance Committee, is also part of the delegation, and a key member in Sarkozy's camp. Sarkozy, who many regard as the most popular politician in France, has publicly staunchly supported Israel in its battle for security.
The delegates are expected to meet with high-level Knesset officials such as Yossi Beilin and Shimon Peres, as well as members of the Palestinian Authority, including PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Muhammad Dahlan and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei during their four-day tour of Israel.
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