Visiting French senators say country eager to offer help in combating terror.
By YANIV SALAMA-SCHEER
The negative attitude regarding Israel typical of the French government of late is shifting towards a new policy, according to the delegation of French senators sent to visit Israel and the West Bank by the Medbridge Institute.
Now, France is eager to offer Israel support in ensuring its national security by confronting terrorist groups and regimes in the Middle East. "The feeling in France today is that terror must be handled directly, and we are ready to combat terrorism," Jean Pierre Plancade, vice president of the Foreign Affairs and Defense committees, told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend.
Plancade, who is very influential in France's political Left, is very close to Socialist candidate Segolene Royal and, according to a ministry official, a likely candidate to receive a ministerial post if Royal is elected.
Plancade has admitted that in the past, France has been critical of some of the ways Israel has responded to attacks, accusing Israel of using disproportionate force, "but we accept that the IDF has the responsibility to defend itself and the citizens of Israel, and we understand that it is completely natural for the army to defend itself preemptively if that is what the situation calls for."
In light of the recent suggestions that the Spanish government may be willing to dilute the principles of the road map given to the PA to push the peace process forward, Plancade insisted that this kind of concession would not be an option in France.
"Whether it is Segolene Royal or Nicholas Sarkozy who becomes the next French president, if the Palestinians want French mediation for establishing peace with Israel, they must abide by the conditions set forth by the Quartet. The Spanish believe that because they have dealt with their own separatist movements from the Basque area that they understand and can identify with what goes on with Israelis and Palestinians, but this is not the same thing."
According to a French Foreign Ministry official, the French government's position on the conditions of the road map are non-negotiable. "Obviously we cannot judge what will happen in the future, but don't expect either Royal or Sarkozy to differ from the current government's position," the ministry official said.
Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urged the French delegation to fulfill their "moral obligation" regarding Iran, insisting that "Europe must remain forceful regarding the nuclear capabilities of Iran." That position was echoed by Plancade, who acknowledged the threat of a nuclear Iran and opposed their efforts saying that a France under Royal "would totally oppose a nuclear Iran in any capacity. We have carefully analyzed the situation, and are against Iran having a nuclear program of any kind."
He added that they are "in favor of a more severe handling of Iran if they do not cease their efforts. It is not only Israel who will be in danger, but the Sunnis and the rest of the world would be under the Iranian threat." While the Chirac government is opposed to an Iranian nuclear arsenal and has expressed concern over the lack of cooperation by the Iranians with the international community regarding the program, they do not oppose peaceful nuclear technology in Iran.
Other delegates, such as Senate Secretary Yvon Collin, have admitted to broadening their views concerning Israeli-Palestinian relations. "We arrived with preconceived ideas but every day those preconceptions... make room for new realities," declared Collin.
Medbridge Chairman and member of the European Parliament Francois Zimeray, who founded the institution to fill the information gap between Middle East and the EU, said from Paris: "This is why Europe has no real impact in the Middle East. They cannot mediate a peace in the Middle East because they do not understand the Middle East.
"I was fed up hearing European diplomats talking about realities that they do not understand, so that is why I have sent 350 parliamentarians from 27 different European countries to Israel and the Palestinian territories." According to Zimeray, one such diplomat is French President Jacques Chirac, who he believes exposed his ignorance of Israel and the Middle East last week with his comment that Teheran would be razed if Iran fired a missile at Israel.
"Israel's real friends are those who understand the fragility of the state of Israel" Zimeray noted. "Saying that Israel would destroy Teheran shows that Chirac doesn't understand Israel's fragility. Israel is not going to take on confrontations all over the world, they need friends and supporters."
"Obviously we don't share Mr. Zimeray's assessment of President Chirac" the French Foreign Ministry official said. "Everyone including Mr. Chirac is capable of making mistakes."
However, despite the public condemnations of IDF and IAF activity on the northern border, which Plancade defended as necessary for proper surveillance, he insisted that French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie is such a friend. "Hizbullah are terrorists that have to be monitored by Israel, and Alliot-Marie knows this," he said.
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