Mayors from France to attend ‘sister cities’ conference

"Israel-France Conference" to take place in Haifa; French Ambassador Bigot says cooperation between cities "at the core" of relations.

Jacques Rocca-Serra and Shlomo Buhbut 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem and Reuters)
Jacques Rocca-Serra and Shlomo Buhbut 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem and Reuters)
Months after the heavily bronzed and fashionably dressed tourist hordes from France returned home from “le vacance,” a new contingent of Gauls will arrive in Israel this week, to discuss strengthening municipal relations between Israeli and French cities.
Scheduled for October 26- 28 in Haifa, the “Israel- France Conference” will host a delegation of mayors from 22 French cities.
RELATED:French Jews happy about Schalit release, fear price
The conference is the brainchild of Union of Local Authorities head Shlomo Buhbut, who said he believes that “cooperation between local authorities across the world is essential to the functioning and development of local authorities and their residents. No one has a monopoly on wisdom, and sister cities allow for joint study on ecological issues, youth exchanges, improvements in education, culture, and sport... I am pleased with our wide range of cooperation with cities in France, a large, influential country with experience we can learn from.”
The conference comes following the November 2009 France-Israel twin cities gathering where a decision was made to hold such a meeting every two years. According to the conference’s brochure, the event is meant to “renew the connections between authorities in Israel and France, whose cooperation has weakened in recent years, and to strengthen the connections between cities where the ties remain strong.”
Those expected to attend the conference include President Shimon Peres, France’s Head of the Union of Local Authorities Jacques Rocca Serra, and a number of French municipality heads.
Discussions and workshops will take place on bilateral relations between Israeli and French sister cities, the role of local authorities in promoting tourism, how local authorities can address the concerns and demands of the young people living in the municipalities and how sports and culture can bridge gaps between people.
In a press release issued in late September, French Ambassador Christophe Bigot said “cooperation between French and Israeli cities is at the core of Israel-France relations, because of the human and national connections that it produces. Connections are formed in culture, trade, community, youth, and elsewhere.”
He added that such ties “forge real, strong connections between the two peoples regardless of the changing political events that surround them.”
Speaking at the Union of Local Authorities offices in Tel Aviv last week, Ruth Wasserman, head of the union’s international division, said that the conference is part of efforts that include “looking at the basic needs of people and the mayors in their municipalities and trying to see how the toolbox of international relations can help promote key projects in infrastructure, housing, education, and elsewhere.”
Wasserman expressed her belief that municipality-level politics can succeed where national politics and diplomacy fail, saying that her department is devoted to “finding the niches in the region where the central government has more difficulty in moving forward and the local mayors have more influence and more value.”
Wasserman, who said “it’s no secret that Israel’s perception in Europe is complex,” described local municipalities as being a branch of the state that can maintain ties with other countries on the local level even when on the national and diplomatic level ties have soured.
She mentioned in particular what she said are ongoing “people-to-people” projects with local municipalities in Turkey, that advance issues like tourism and cultural exchanges, even while the ties between Ankara and Jerusalem are at an all-time low.
Wasserman appears to view the international branch of the Union as having the potential to forge ties where official diplomacy has failed, describing how cooperation between local municipalities has forged ties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and Israeli municipal leaders and their counterparts in Morocco and Turkey.
She also described how the union has launched a forum to increase cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian municipality heads, saying “we have also formed a forum for encouraging Israeli mayors to cooperate with Palestinian mayors, not for dialogue and humous, but for real concrete visible and feasible projects on the ground whose benefit is for the people.”