The French government insists Israel must withdraw to the 1949-1967 ceasefire line in the West Bank (the “Green Line”) in order to achieve peace with the Palestinians. France holds it to be an “international border” and deems any Israeli presence beyond it to be an illegal settlement built on foreign soil. Even in Jerusalem, where the Green Line – back then an eerie, barbed wire no-man’s land — cut off one half of the city from the other and deprived Israelis and Jews from any access to the holiest of all Jewish holy places: the Western Wall.
The proper Israeli answer to France should be: We dare you.
It’s a matter of logic, indeed. If the Green Line is an international border, everything located west of it in pre-1967 Israel is indisputably Israeli. This is the case, in particular, of the Kiryah, the hill where the Israeli parliament and government are located. As a consequence, France should acknowledge West Jerusalem as the rightful capital of Israel and transfer without delay its embassy from Tel Aviv to there.
The fact is, however, that the French are not as logical as they claim to be, and that while regarding East Jerusalem as part of some half-born “state of Palestine,” they do not see West Jerusalem as part of Israel, either.
Go for instance to France Diplomatie, the French Foreign Ministry website. It just posted the returns for the first round of the parliamentary elections held on June 3 in the eleven “residing abroad” constituencies. What you will learn about the eighth constituency is that it comprises the following countries: Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jerusalem, Malta, and Turkey. Yes, Jerusalem as a separate entity, distinct from Israel.
French diplomatic mail, when sent to any destination in Jerusalem, including the pre-1967 western sector, is directed to “Jerusalem, via Israel.” Upon delivering documents to French citizens, the French consular authorities in Israel routinely fail to ascribe any place in the Jerusalem area, including outside the city’s limits, to Israel.
Last February, the French consulate in Jerusalem did not allow a French retired couple living in the Emek Refaim vicinity in the pre-1967 sector to say in a formal request that their home was located in Israel. In an even more troubling incident, the city of Mevaseret Zion, a few miles west of Jerusalem on the road to Tel Aviv, was not registered on a birth certificate as belonging to Israel. The consular authorities usually mollify their stand once the citizens they are dealing with are not going to give in. It is, however, very difficult not to believe that such behavior is part of a broader, deliberate policy.
In his thoroughly researched book Betrayal: France, the Arabs and the Jews, David Pryce-Jones made clear that both anti-Jewish prejudice and pro-Arab or pro-Islamic infatuations have run high at Quai d’Orsay, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, since the 19th century. Even if France’s actual policies as a colonial power in Arab and Muslim lands were not as generous to the Muslim natives as one would have expected.
The French diplomatic establishment opposed Zionism at the 1919 Peace Conference in Paris and throughout the inter-wars period. It steadily supported Amin el-Husseini, the infamous mufti of Jerusalem who fled to Nazi Germany in 1941 to become a chaplain for Muslim Waffen-SS divisions, and helped him to flee again, this time to Egypt, in 1945, and thus to escape being indicted as a war criminal and an accomplice in genocide against Jews and Christians in Yugoslavia and the USSR.
The French diplomatic establishment never agreed with the pro-Israel line taken by the French Fourth Republic in the late 1940s and 1950s, and was instrumental in convincing Charles de Gaulle, the Fifth Republic’s founder and first president, to engage in a radically anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli “Arab policy” from 1966 on (one year before the Six Days War). It saw to it to iron out the doubts that succeeding presidents might have entertained in that respect — including Nicolas Sarkozy, who was briefed away from supporting Israel the very day he took up office in 2007.
Things are not likely to change under François Hollande, the new socialist president. His prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, has evolved over the years — like most socialists and social-democrats in Europe — from being mildly pro-Israel to being actively pro-Palestinian and pro-Islamic. While he still perfunctorily characterizes “Israel’s security” as an important issue, he twice faulted Israel for resorting to self-defense operations against aggressions: in December 2008 and January 2009, when the Israel Defense Forces retaliated in Gaza against Hamas’ incessant rocket bombings; and in May 2010, when the Israeli Navy hailed the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship during the so called “flotilla incident.” In March 2010, two months ahead of the Mavi Marmara operation, Ayrault — then the mayor of Nantes in western France — suspended a pro-Israel conference that was to be held in that city by Charles Mayer, an international lawyer and the vice-chairman of the France-Israel Alliance, and Muriel Touaty, the director of the Technion University in Haifa.
Laurent Fabius, a former prime minister under François Mitterrand in the 1980s and Hollande’s choice for a foreign minister, has Jewish family roots but was baptized and raised as a Catholic. He seems to have undergone the same pro-Palestinian transition as Ayrault. He made clear that France, under Hollande, was “going to play a more active role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” code for pressuring Israel. It is noteworthy in this respect that he appointed Denis Pietton as his chief of staff. Pietton, who more recently served as the French ambassador to Lebanon, was in the early 2000s the French consul general in Jerusalem. In other terms: he was the man whose job was to wrest Jerusalem, or any part of it, from the Jewish state.
True enough, anti-Israel biases and nonsenses are common staple in most diplomatic services in the world, including the State Department. But in many countries and especially in America, diplomats are still accountable to elected governments, who may take a more sober view of the Near East. In France, governments just do what they are told to do by the diplomats.