French ambassador praises Israel’s military ‘restraint’

By David Horovitz December 8, 2004

In a radical departure from years of Parisian critical rhetoric, the French ambassador to Israel, Gerard Araud, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he thought Israel ‘has tried to show the utmost restraint’ in the course of the conflict with the Palestinians since 2000.

The ambassador even evinced a certain understanding of the deaths of Palestinians during the course of Israeli army activity. ‘It’s unavoidable that in some operations…,’ he said, leaving that sentence uncompleted. ‘War is dirty, war is always dirty,’ he went on, and then added: ‘Occupation is never clean.’

France has been at the forefront of repeated EU appeals to Israel to show greater restraint vis-ˆ-vis the Palestinians, and leading French politicians have frequently used far tougher language than employed by the EU.

French President Jacques Chirac, for instance, condemned Israel’s killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in March as being contrary to international law. Two years ago, then-French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine said that no solution to the Middle East crisis could be found by ‘armored vehicles firing’ at Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters. Vedrine had earlier accused Israel of following a ‘deliberate’ and ‘fatal’ policy in seeking to weaken or eliminate the Palestinian Authority and protested the army’s ‘harassment’ of Arafat.

Araud’s empathetic remarks came a day after a senior Israeli diplomatic official told the Post that, having tried to keep the EU out of the regional diplomatic process, Israel was now looking to Europe to encourage Arab states to warm ties with it.

While underlining Europe’s desire to play a constructive role in regional peacemaking, the ambassador said flatly that Europe ‘can’t play a role’ in boosting Arab-Israel ties because Arab countries would ‘take their decisions’ on this issue ‘in their own interest’ – balancing a desire for warmer ties with the US, he said, against the limited tolerance of their own public opinion.

The Palestinian issue is ‘not the central problem’ for Arab states, he said, most of whose regimes are ‘so fragile… They all have more pressing problems… being mostly obsessed with their own survival.’

Again departing from more familiar European script, which has consistently argued that Israel has been missing opportunities for accelerated progress in negotiations with the Palestinians, the ambassador said it was appropriate to wait and see whether Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) prevails in the January election for a new Palestinian Authority head, and whether he can then achieve stability. Israel would have a role to play in that regard, he said, via redeployment, prisoner releases and so on.

While it was too early to assess whether Abu Mazen could partner Israel toward a permanent peace, he argued that if disengagement went well, and Abu Mazen achieved stability, there might be opportunities that are not apparent right now.

Turning to the issue of Iran’s drive for nuclear- weapons capability, Araud asserted that Israel was kept fully informed of the EU’s negotiations with Iran, and that the resulting agreement under which Teheran is meant to freeze its uranium-enrichment activities has been received by the relevant Israeli officials as constituting ‘the best that could have been achieved.’ He did not believe, he said, that the world had the stomach for the only effective sanction against Teheran – an oil embargo – which would drastically raise world oil prices.

He said he was aware of the dangers of Iran eroding, evading or simply breaching the deal. Asked under which circumstances France would support military action against Teheran, he first said: If there was a ‘blatant violation.’ He then added the caveat: ‘The first step would be to go to the Security Council.’

© The Jerusalem Post