peres ben gurion street 311.
(photo credit: AP)
With Independence Day only days away, President Shimon Peres attended the inauguration of the Ben-Gurion Promenade in Paris on Thursday.
Peres was joined at the gala ceremony by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who said he was proud to be able to name a promenade within the context of the history and legacy of France-Israel relations.
Delanoe lauded Ben-Gurion’s vision, saying that not only had the former prime minister created a state, but he was also a man who had been in constant pursuit of peace under the motto that it was preferable to have a small state living in peace than a large state always caught up in war.
The promenade – located in the 7th arrondissement
alongside the Seine River and close to the Eiffel Tower – is not only a tribute to Ben-Gurion, but an honor to the State of Israel, Peres said.
The dedication ceremony was not without incident. For several months prior to the event, there had been attempts by communists and pro-Palestinian elements to prevent the naming of the promenade after Ben-Gurion. Moreover, those elements were frustrated because Delanoe would not agree to name a square or promenade after PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
Anti-Israel demonstrators lined the banks of the Seine, and some even boarded a pleasure boat from which they displayed banners and posters with anti-Israel slogans. Some of the demonstrators called Ben-Gurion a criminal, shouted that he had been responsible for expelling Palestinians from their homeland in 1948, and charged the Netanyahu government with continuing a policy of seizing Palestinian property and indulging in needless killing of Palestinians.
Peres’s own peacemaking efforts – including receiving the Nobel Peace Prize together with Arafat and former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin – were not recognized by the demonstrators, who claimed that he was no less a criminal than Ben-Gurion.
Delanoe referred to those opponents of naming the promenade for Ben-Gurion, saying he would not apologize for going ahead with the plan, but in fact regarded it as an honor and a privilege to inaugurate the promenade.
He was also proud that the municipality of Paris had been unanimous in its agreement to honor Israel’s founding prime minister.
Peres recalled that when the State of Israel had come into being so soon after the Holocaust, France had ignored the arms embargo that had made it almost impossible for the nascent state to defend itself, and had put tanks and weapons at Israel’s disposal.
Ben-Gurion had been the leader of the state before it even existed, said Peres, and his big dream was to bring his people, scattered around so many parts of the globe, back to their ancestral homeland.
“He even commanded a war before we had an army. He pursued peace and he pursued ethics – and this is the legacy he bequeathed us,” he declared.
Following the inauguration, Peres met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who assured him that he would continue to do his utmost to secure the release of kidnapped soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who is also a French citizen.
Sarkozy also reiterated France’s commitment to Middle East peace and a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying there was no alternative other than to resume negotiations between the two sides and to get the peace process back on track.
France would like to see a free, independent, democratic Palestinian state alongside Israel, with full guarantees of Israel’s security, said Sarkozy.
While confident that peace would eventually be achieved, the French president warned that continuation of the conflict would impact everyone because it fed the influence of extremists on both sides and led to incitement and terror.
Peres conceded that there had been a crisis of confidence between the sides, but was optimistic that this would be overcome in the final analysis. Israel is ready to extend the hand of peace and to accept the principle of a two-state solution, he said, adding that it was imperative that negotiations be renewed as quickly as possible.
With regard to Iran, Peres said that while he would stop short of comparing its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Hitler, Israel could not remain silent and indifferent in the face of Ahmadinejad’s continuing calls for Israel’s extermination.
Sarkozy was likewise critical of Iran, saying it was behaving in an intolerable manner and must be subjected to the severest of sanctions.