The First Word: 'La realite francaise'

I am aware that some Israelis hold a negative view of France, but the French-Israel relationship is actually blossoming

It is with a deep desire to be posted here that I have come to Israel. I have been profoundly attracted by Israel for a long time, ever since my first visit to the country nearly 25 years ago, when I found its dynamic and remarkable nature an irresistible blend, especially in combination with my personal interest in Jewish culture. For the past four years, I was ambassador in Amman, and was able to make frequent visits to this country which I have always found so exciting. During these years, I was able to observe how the Israeli people coped with terrorism. I was able to observe, with admiration, how the country achieved economic recovery, and its spectacular modernization. I was able to observe this country's determination during the disengagement from Gaza in August 2005. And most recently, this summer, I was able to observe the courage of the civilians in the north of Israel as Hizbullah rained down heavy fire on them. I observed all this, and wanted to come and live in this country - which is also the scene of one of the major dramas tearing the world apart. Come and live in this country which has a very special relationship with my country, France, a relationship which goes back such a long way and has often been passionate. Our two countries know each other well. France and the Jewish people know each other well, and right at the beginning, even before the country gained its independence, France stood shoulder to shoulder with Israel. This is a historical reality on which we pride ourselves. And for the past four years, the French and Israeli authorities have chosen to strengthen their bilateral ties. Today, this choice is bearing fruit. There is a close political dialogue based on trust. Close to half a million Israelis have attended the 20 or so cultural events that were organized as part of the "French Season in Israel," which kicked off with a spectacular firework display enjoyed by Tel Aviv's residents. The Season's spirit will live on in the upcoming inauguration of a magnificent new French Institute in Rothschild Boulevard, and our French-Israeli Lycee project. YOU WILL also have been aware that for the past four years the French government has pursued a policy of relentlessly combating anti-Semitism at home and systematically condemning terrorism here in Israel, that France has left it up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to take charge of negotiations, and that the French and Israelis have both adopted the road map for peace in the region. It is in France's interest for peace to come about in the Middle East. France's ties with Israel and the Arab world might make it possible to bring the two sides together and ensure that, at the right time, the European Union could provide political, financial and operational support for a peace settlement. This positive and constructive role of France has recently come into play. I am referring to the Lebanese crisis, where we have been able to work on the basis of total confidence together with the Israeli and Lebanese authorities and come up with a negotiated outcome to the conflict. Resolution 1701 is a tangible and concrete demonstration of the usefulness of the diplomatic approach in conflict resolution. And France stands by its words. Our country has agreed to play a crucial role in maintaining the peace in Lebanon and Israel's security. Our country is one of the foremost contributors to the revamped UNIFIL, with practically 1,000 of our soldiers deployed in the field. This mission is not risk-free, and France's president has made a point of telling French citizens of its potential dangers. This is why it is so important that the parties conduct themselves well on the ground, complying with both the spirit and the letter of Resolution 1701. The Israeli authorities are fully aware of this state of affairs, and we are gratified to see that this new involvement by France at Israel's very gates, thereby contributing to the country's security, has been able to bring about an open dialogue based on trust. IN LIAISON with the British and Germans, we have also played an active role in insisting that Iran meet the international community's requirements over its nuclear program. The adoption of Resolution 1696 and Iran's continued uranium enrichment activities have today brought the international community to contemplate sanctions, pursuant to Article 41 of the United Nations Charter. France will of course remain involved in this crucial phase for the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. However, although there have never been so many bilateral ties between our two countries, and our economic and cultural ties are improving on a daily basis, and our dialogue about regional problems has never been as diversified and more grounded in trust. I am fully aware that sometimes Israeli public opinion still reflects negative images of our country. While I regret it, it further heightens my wish to explain la r alit fran aise. A reality with sometimes subtle notes, nuances, but first and foremost based on a unshakeable commitment on the part of my country to serve peace and justice - as a friend of Israel. The writer is the French ambassador to Israel.