France-Israel, secret stories at the height of power

Home"TO THE ONE"France-Israel, secret stories at the height of power
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Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, former Mossad agent in France and conservative leader, talks with François Mitterrand on February 22, 1989. - Photo credits: Thierry Orban / Sygma via Getty Images

EXCLUSIVE - In his new book of investigation, our collaborator Vincent Nouzille unveils original conversations that have marked the relationship between the French and Israeli authorities for 70 years. Excerpts.

A radiant relationship before being stormy, then icy, then warmed to finish as a cold and distant relationship. In seventy years, the weather between France and Israel has known all the colors of the sky and the temperatures that go with it. From this duet varying between close complicity and outright hostility, the heads of state and government who succeeded each other in Paris and Jerusalem were the main actors.

As he had done in a previous book on the relationship between Paris and Washington (In the secret of the presidents, Fayard, 2010), Vincent Nouzille has, to write Secret stories. France-Israel 1948-2018, peeled the archives and interviewed the witnesses in order to tell as precisely as possible the exchanges, encounters and quarrels that the tandems of the French President-Prime Minister of Israel have known.

Mutual admiration and cordial detestation

An exciting story that begins with the close links between Guy Mollet and David Ben Gurion, under a benevolent and protective 4th Republic, like the big sister of a newborn Hebrew State. We then meet de Gaulle and his offensive phrase on the Jews, "elite people, self-confident and domineering", the culmination of a quarrel arising from the Six-Day War and a prelude to the famous Arab policy.

Later comes the renewal hoped by Jerusalem with the election of François Mitterrand, disappointed hope when it will be the advocate of the rights of Palestinians. Even the advent of Nicolas Sarkozy, praised by an enthusiastic Israel, will end once again in spite of love.

Vincent Nouzille is the scrupulous chronicler of these ups and downs of bilateral diplomacy where mutual admiration, as between Peres and Mitterrand, sometimes leaves room for moments of cordial detestation, especially under Giscard and Chirac. To read it, one wonders if the two nations did not love each other too much in the 1950s, those of the beginnings of Israel. So much passion could only lead to disappointment. As General de Gaulle said: "States have no friends, they only have interests."

● February 22, 1989: Mitterrand tries to convince Shamir

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, former Mossad agent in France and conservative leader, talks with François Mitterrand. The French president is preparing to welcome for the first time in Paris the Palestinian Yasser Arafat, head of the PLO, considered a "terrorist" by Shamir. Dialogue of the deaf.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and President François Mitterrand in Paris, February 22, 1989. - Photo Credits: Thierry Orban / Sygma via Getty Images

Received at the Elysée by François Mitterrand on February 22, 1989, Yitzhak Shamir tries to demonstrate that his country is open to discussion. But he does not give an inch on the bottom. "Establishing a [Palestinian] state will not solve anything. Palestinians in the Diaspora (Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait) will have no place. This will engender frustration, bitterness, which will develop into base of attack and violence against us. We will have to take action, install tens of thousands of kilometers of barbed wire, electronic surveillance systems. I recently went to southern Lebanon where we have a small slice of territory. It is very expensive. It's not a cure. "

For its part, the French president believes, on the contrary, that the Palestinians' right can not be ignored any longer and that the PLO has changed: "To deny the PLO's bargaining power is a mistake. It has made progress, its changes are not hypocritical. "According to him, a meeting with Yasser Arafat, who has already been received in several European countries, is likely:" I did not decide anything. But I do not see how, why, in the name of what, I could refuse durably. I have not decided, no appointment is made. It will not be tomorrow morning. The problem is posed. It will have to be solved. I will only follow the opportunity, the political realism. "

● July 27, 2005: Chirac and Sharon pretend to be reconciled

On July 27, 2005, President Jacques Chirac receives Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to resume a dialogue that has been interrupted for four years. Yasser Arafat, Chirac's protégé and Sharon's sworn enemy, died at the end of 2004 and the Israeli prime minister proposed a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

[...] The interview that takes place at the Elysee Palace on July 27, 2005, followed by a "working lunch", looks like a reconciliation a little overplayed. On the one hand, the prime minister publicly presents Chirac as "one of the world's greatest leaders" and thanks him for "the precious help" France has given to the peace process. He highlights his efforts in the fight against anti-Semitism and officially invites him to visit his ranch in Israel. On the other, the French wishes "the most cordial welcome" to his host. He praises the "common values" and the "historical" character of the Israeli decision to withdraw from Gaza.

During the meal, Ariel Sharon reiterates his firm commitment to hold this commitment by mid-August, despite strong criticism in his country.

- Do you think Palestinians have an interest in sabotaging your withdrawal plan? asks Chirac.

"I do not know, but I'll do it no matter what," Sharon replies.

- I understand the message. One must succeed. We will support you, promises Chirac.

[...] In order not to aggravate the debate, the French president is careful not to ask any pressing questions about the possible subjects of disagreement, such as the peace negotiations that should prolong the withdrawal from Gaza, the fate of the other Jewish settlements in the provinces. occupied territories or the ongoing construction of the security wall.

"The best moment of my political life is when I was Minister of Agriculture. Me too!"

Just as anxious to avoid angry subjects, the Israeli prime minister is encouraging Chirac to continue negotiations for Iran to abandon its nuclear program. "We will not make concessions on the subject", assures him the French president, who is said ready to seize the Security Council of the UN if Tehran does not give "objective guarantees on the definitive stop of its nuclear activities sensitive. " Sharon also congratulates him for his pressure on Syria. [...] In front of his guest, Chirac insists on the negative regional role of Bashar al-Assad, for which he does not have words hard enough: "It is a bad regime, which understands nobody and does nothing to change his behavior."

[...] To seal a new pact and to realize the good relations between their countries, the two leaders agree to launch a France-Israel Foundation whose objective will be to improve the image of Israel in France, and vice versa.

More prosaically, Chirac and Sharon end up approaching a subject that brings them closer: the cattle.

"I have a farm in the Negev with a few cows, including cows from Salers," Sharon said.

- Do you know that limousines can withstand harsh climates? Come see them at the Salon de l'agriculture.

- Okay, provided you come to visit my Negev farm.

- I will come with pleasure.

- The best moment of my political life is when I was Minister of Agriculture.

- Me too!

● June 24, 2009: Sarkozy teaches Netanyahu

On 24 June 2009, President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who has been reoccupying this post for a few months. Sarkozy believes he can give advice to his friend "Bibi", whom he knows and enjoys for a long time. But the Israeli prime minister will not take it into account.

[...] As a friend of Israel, Sarkozy feels entitled to give his opinion and able to move the lines. It is he who opens the conversation and leads it from end to end, without really giving his guest the leisure to express himself at length:

- I want to emphasize how much I appreciate our personal friendship. It allows me the franchise. I truly believe that, to ensure your own safety, you must make peace with your neighbors.

- I'm ready. In my speech at the University of Bar-Ilan on June 14, I said that I was in favor of creating a demilitarized Palestinian state. Israel will also guarantee all minority rights, and Israeli Arabs will not be expelled.

"Israel has no time to lose. We are ready to help you »

- Your speech was good, but insufficient. Israel has no time to lose. We are ready to help you move forward as we can. Progress towards peace also depends on international alliances and you must also win the war of communication. The longer you wait, the more you lose international support.

The French president does not use the term "demilitarized" used by his interlocutor to characterize the Palestinian state; he prefers to say "calm and pacified". [...]

Asked about his possible participation in an international conference that would promote the process, Netanyahu replied:

- I totally agree that such a conference should take place. I do not have a problem with that. But I understand that Americans are hesitant on the subject.

- I'll talk to President Obama at the G8 summit, at least test his reaction to this conference idea, even in confidence. If it agrees on the principle, France will mobilize all its resources to make this conference a success. We will also push the Arab countries. We have the confidence of all the actors, proposes Sarkozy.

"There is no justification for these settlements. They provide no security and you have nothing to gain from it »

On the other hand, the French president strongly advises Netanyahu to "totally freeze" the activities of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories, which represent a "problem of occupation".

"There is no justification for these settlements. They provide no security and you have nothing to gain. This problem can be solved by the existence of the two States, which is another reason for speeding up the peace negotiations. The Arab countries can contribute, and France will encourage them to do so. But first you have to make decisions about settlements. You must also lift the blockade of Gaza and let the Palestinians rebuild. "

Netanyahu seems a little surprised by this directive tone, and even crumpled by these remarks, especially since he has already publicly excluded such a "total freeze". He responds vaguely: "We will freeze the earth, but not life in the settlements."

The interview was frank. Nevertheless, it was more like a Sarkozy monologue than a real exchange.

● January 11, 2015: Netanyahu wins with Holland

On 7 and 9 January 2015, attacks hit the editorial office of Charlie Hebdo and a Hyper Cacher store in Paris. The Israeli prime minister wants to come to protest on January 11.

[...] Saturday, January 10, the preparations for the demonstration the next mobilize the Quai d'Orsay and the diplomatic cell of the Elysee. All European leaders want to be present, as well as many other heads of state and government. Barack Obama can not cross the Atlantic: he will be represented by his ambassador and will send his secretary of state, John Kerry, to Paris the following Monday. In Jerusalem, Benyamin Netanyahu wishes to make the trip. His advisor Yossi Cohen talks several times with Jacques Audibert, the diplomatic adviser of Holland. The latter politely tells him that Netanyahu would not be welcome. It highlights security and diplomacy issues. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, said he would not be here. Let him come on Monday instead.

"Netanyahu did not want to let his allies and rivals parade in Paris as defenders of Jewish communities, when he was three months away from the elections. So he chose to impose himself "

Annoyed, Netanyahu asks his friend [French MP] Meyer Habib to intervene. The latter sends a message to Manuel Valls, who replied that it is the Elysee who manages the entire event. The situation is blocked. Netanyahu seems to be a reason, especially since Obama will also be absent.

But "Bibi" is also a fine tactician. He learned that his Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who represents the ultra-nationalists, and his Minister of Industry, Naftali Bennett, leader of the far-right religious and settlers, have planned to visit Paris on next day. Never mind: in the late afternoon, after again consulting with Meyer Habib, who encourages him to do so, Netanyahu decides that he will lead the Israeli delegation. "He did not want to let his allies and rivals parade in Paris as defenders of Jewish communities, when he was three months away from the elections. So he chose to win, "said an Israeli diplomat who knows him well.

The entourage of President Hollande pleaded the security puzzle to try to dissuade Netanyahu from coming. In vain

Immediately warned, the Elysee frowns: the presence of Netanyahu will inevitably be controversial. The entourage of President Hollande pleaded again the security puzzle to try to dissuade the visitor. In vain. The diplomatic cell can not prevent the arrival of the Prime Minister of Israel while Jews are among the victims. "In disaster, we had to remember Mahmoud Abbas to balance things," says an adviser to François Hollande. The Palestinian president is awakened in the middle of the night in his stronghold of Ramallah and expressly invited to jump on a plane for Paris.

[...] When he arrives in Paris on Sunday, January 11 late in the morning, Benyamin Netanyahu is tense. Its security agents, reputed inflexible, panic by discovering the planned device: the fifty leaders present must be driven near the Republic Square by bus. [...] As all heads of state and government prepare to get into the vehicle, the Israeli isolates himself in a room of the Elysee Palace to equip himself with a bulletproof coat.

On the scene of the demonstration, in the middle of a crowd of a million and a half people, he is almost worn by his three bodyguards, posted behind him. Stuck between Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker and Malian Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, he advances by greeting the crowd with one hand. His features remain tense, betraying his nervousness. From a balcony, a woman calls him: "Bibi!" He relaxes for a few moments.


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