Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departed for France to join more than 70 world leaders gathering in Paris on Sunday to mark the centennial of the end of World War I.
This included Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump.
"We are going to a very important ceremony marking the centenary of the end of World War I. This was A bloody war that claimed millions of lives," he said at the airport before his departure.
"It was also of great importance in the history of our people," the Prime Minister explained. "First of all, there were hundreds of thousands of Jewish fighters involved, which marked the next turning point in our ability to defend ourselves. In addition, it brought to an end to the Ottoman Empire that ruled our country, and paved the way for Zionism.
"I will meet dozens of leaders from around the world," he continued, emphasizing that "there are many important issues that need to be discussed. I, as usual, will represent the State of Israel with great pride."
Netanyahu had initially hoped to hold a substantive meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the international event, but France discouraged such sidebar talks.
On Sunday, Netanyahu will attend a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe and a luncheon with international leaders. On Monday, he will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Simultaneously starting on Sunday, France is holding a Peace Forum, a massive three-day international event that ends Tuesday and includes world leaders and civic society.
French Ambassador Helene Le Gal told The Jerusalem Post
that the Peace Forum, which her country hopes will be an annual event, was designed to speak to the importance of the global community at a time when people are questioning the necessity of international institutions.
Populism and nationalism are gaining in popularity, while countries are putting up barriers against globalization, she said. This past week, the French leader toured sites that once dotted the Western Front, from the battlefields of Verdun in the east to the imposing Thiepval memorial overlooking the Somme valley. There, he and British Prime Minister Theresa May together laid a wreath on Friday.
Along the way, Macron has warned of the rising threat to Europe posed by a resurgence of nationalism. “Nationalism is rising across Europe, the nationalism that demands the closing of frontiers, which preaches rejection of the other,” Macron said in a radio interview on Tuesday. “It is playing on fears, everywhere. Europe is increasingly fractured.”
Trump is not expected to attend the Peace Forum.
On Saturday, the leaders of France and Germany held hands and rested their heads against one another in a poignant ceremony to mark the signing of the Armistice peace agreement.
Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel inspected troops from a joint Franco-German brigade before unveiling a plaque dedicated to the reconciliation and renewed friendship between the foes of two global wars.
More than three million French and German troops were among an estimated 10 million soldiers who died in the Great War of 1914-1918. Much of the heaviest fighting was in trenches in northern France and Belgium.
A German delegation signed the Armistice before sunrise on November 11, 1918, in a private train belonging to the commander of French forces, Ferdinand Foch, parked on rail track running through the Compiegne Forest. Hours later, at 11:00 a.m., the war ended.
“Europe has been at peace for 73 years. It is at peace because we want it to be, because Germany and France want peace,” Macron told several youngsters, with Merkel at his side, referring to the peace since the end of World War II in 1945.
“And so the message, if we want to live up to the sacrifice of those soldiers who said ‘never again,’ is to never yield to our weakest instincts, nor to efforts to divide us,” Macron said.
In a powerful show of unity, Macron and Merkel sat inside the reconstructed teak-lined rail wagon in which the peace charter was signed, and looked through a book of remembrance. After each signed the book, they held hands a second time.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended his own ceremony to pay tribute to Canadian troops killed at Vimy Ridge, on the battlefields of northeastern France.
The US president is scheduled to take part in a ceremony at the Suresnes American Cemetery to the west of Paris on Sunday afternoon, when he is expected to make formal remarks.
Trump could not attend a commemoration in France for US soldiers and marines killed during World War I on Saturday because rain made it impossible to arrange transport, the White House said.
The last minute cancellation prompted widespread criticism on social media and from some officials in Britain and the United States that Trump had “dishonored” US servicemen.
The president was scheduled to pay tribute in a ceremony at the AisneMarne American Cemetery in Belleau, about 85 km. (50 miles) east of Paris, with his wife Melania. But light, steady rain and a low cloud ceiling prevented his helicopter from traveling to the site.
“[Their attendance] has been canceled due to scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather,” the White House said in a statement, adding that a delegation led by chief of staff John Kelly, a retired general, went instead.
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