conflict - the two key flash-points
The over-arching problem of French policy in the Middle
east has been the historical sense of
having a colonial legacy connected to the Arab peoples - most notably in Algeria,
Syria and the Lebanon
and their somewhat cooling juxta-antipathy towards
Israeli ambition in the Middle East. The latter takes a
particularly stronger form after the 6 day war n 1967 and Yom Kippur war in
These two conflicts largely between Israel
and Egypt has defined ever since the meaning of Israel
in the Middle East.
On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a
resolution "recommending to the United Kingdom, as the mandatory Power for
Palestine, and to all other Members of the United Nations the adoption and
implementation, with regard to the future government of Palestine, of the Plan
of Partition with Economic Union", UN General Assembly Resolution 181(II).
This was an attempt to resolve the Arab-Jewish conflict by partitioning Palestine
into "Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International
Regime for the City of Jerusalem".
Each state would comprise three major sections; the Arab state would also have
an enclave at Jaffa in order to
have a port on the Mediterranean.
With about 32% of the population, the Jews were allocated 56% of the
territory. It contained 499,000 Jews and 438,000 Arabs and a majority of it was
in the Negev desert. The Palestinian Arabs were
allocated 42% of the land, which had a population of 818,000 Palestinian Arabs
and 10,000 Jews. In consideration of its religious significance, the Jerusalem
area, including Bethlehem, with
100,000 Jews and an equal number of Palestinian Arabs, was to become a Corpus
Separatum, to be administered by the UN
The Jewish leadership accepted the partition plan as "the indispensable
minimum glad to gain international recognition but sorry that they did not
receive more. The representatives of the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab League
firmly opposed the UN action
Deep dissatisfaction over the division of the lands which the arabs thought had been disproportionately handed to Israel
led to sporadic and often intense violence at the same time as Ben-Gurion had
since 1946 and as leader of the Israeli people been amassing arms anticipation
conflicts to come with the arabs.
November 1947, until the termination of
the British Mandate and Israeli proclamation of statehood on 14 May 1948. During this period
the Jewish and Arab communities of British Mandate clashed, while the British
organized their withdrawal and intervened only on an occasional basis. In the
first two months of the Civil War, around 1,000 people were killed and 2,000
people injured, and by the end of March, the figure had risen to 2,000 dead and
Plan Dalet: Israeli military plan:
The plan was a set of guidelines to take control of Mandatory Palestine,
declare a Jewish state, and defend its borders and people, including the Jewish
population outside of the borders, 'before, and in anticipation of' the
invasion by regular Arab armies. Through series of largely successful military operations the Israeli army then
known as the haganah (later Israeli defense force) drove out various of the arab
forces from both territories allocated to Israel
as well as to the Arab state
On 14 May 1948,
the day before the expiration of the British Mandate, David Ben-Gurion declared
the establishment of a Jewish state Both superpower
leaders, U.S. President Harry S. Truman (de facto) and the Soviet leader Joseph
Stalin, immediately recognized the new state, while the Arab League refused to
accept the UN partition plan
Over the next few days, contingents of four of the seven
countries of the Arab League at that time, namely Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, and Syria, invaded territory in the former
British Mandate of Palestine and fought the Israelis. They were supported by
the Arab Liberation Army and corps of volunteers from Saudi
and Yemen. The
Arab armies launched a simultaneous offensive on all fronts, Egypt
forces invaded from south, Jordanian and Iraqi forces invaded from east, while
Syrian forces invaded from north.
The upshot of ll this fighting and
conflicts to re-structure by force the territorial allocations of the UN
partition plan was a series of truces imposed by the UN and broken by either
the Israelis or the Arab forces across June 1948 and March 1949
In 1949, Israel
signed separate armistices with Egypt
on 24 February, Lebanon
on 23 March, Transjordan on 3
April, and Syria
on 20 July. The armistice lines saw Israel
holding about 78% of mandate Palestine
(as it stood after the independence of Transjordan
in 1946), 22% more than the UN Partition Plan had allocated. These ceasefire
lines were known afterwards as the "Green Line". The Gaza Strip and
the West Bank were occupied by Egypt
and Transjordan, respectively.
Palestinians call 1948 "al-Nakba",
or "the Catastrophe". Up to 750,000 Palestinians fled or were
expelled from the land that became Israel,
and were never allowed back.
1967 War - 5th 10th June
The antagonism of the 1947-1949 period and the suspicions
and hurt on both sides meant that a
re-opening of conflicts was possible at any time not least in the crisis of
1956 Suez war that saw the rise of a populist nationalism in arab states and most obviously under Nasser in Egypt.
The variety of arab states and the
constant instability created among tem by petty jealousies and suspicions of
each contrasted with the unity of purposes of Israel that guarded its captured
territories and its people, was largely supported by the West and had a powerful
and effective army and intelligence infrastructure.
War in 1967 came as a result of years of increasing tension and vicious
border skirmishes between Arabs and Israelis.
The border between Egypt
and Israel was
relatively quiet. The biggest flashpoint was Israel's
northern border with Syria,
where they fought over disputed territory and Syria's
attempts to divert the River Jordan away from Israel's
national water grid.
The Syrians sheltered Palestinian guerrillas, who were mounting raids into Israel.
Western powers had no doubt which side in the Middle East
was stronger on the eve of war in 1967. The US
military's Joint Chiefs of Staff judged "that Israel
will be militarily unchallengeable by any combination of Arab states at least
during the next five years."
A big Israeli raid into the Jordanian-occupied West Bank
targeting the village of Samua in November 1966, followed a land mine attack inside Israel.
Hussein, who the Americans believed was doing all he could to stop
Palestinian infiltration, Syria actively encouraged it; Israel was pushing its
claims to disputed territory in the border area aggressively by cultivating
fields in demilitarised areas with armoured tractors.
It came to a head with a full-scale air and artillery battle between Israel
and Syria on 7 April, 1967. Israel
routed the Syrians.
the Palestinian guerrillas it sponsored, tried even harder to provoke the
Israelis, who obliged them by rising to every provocation. It looked to Syria
and Egypt, as
well as to Britain
and the US,
that Israel was
planning a bigger move.
Then an intervention by the Soviet Union changed
everything. On 13 May, Moscow
delivered a warning to Cairo that Israel
was massing troops on the border with Syria
and would attack within a week. Why exactly the Soviet Union
fired the starting pistol for war has been debated ever since. Two Israeli
historians, Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, argue that the USSR deliberately instigated the
crisis; they say it wanted to block Israel's nuclear weapons plans; and that
the Soviets were ready to commit their own forces to the fight.
At the time a "medium-level" Soviet official told the CIA
that the Soviet Union was stirring up the Arabs to try
to make trouble for the US.
With the big problems in Vietnam,
another war in the Middle East would be an even worse
headache. In 1967 neither Israel
nor its Arab neighbours needed much encouragement. They plunged straight into
the crisis that they had all expected for years.
The problem was that for the Arabs, Egypt
to whom they looked for the most military support was in no fit state to fight But
nonetheless On 22 May, Nasser banned Israeli shipping
from the Straits of Tiran, the entrance to the Gulf
of Aqaba, effectively re-imposing the
blockade of the port of Eilat that had been lifted in
The day after Nasser closed the Straits, the Israeli
prime minister, Levi Eshkol, and the cabinet ordered
a full mobilisation. In 48 hours, 250,000 men could be put into the field.
After compulsory military service, all Israeli men were allocated to a reserve
unit. Johnson indicated he would work on ways of getting the Straits of Tiran open, perhaps with a multinational naval task force,
but wanted time to see if it could work.
Abba Eban decided Israel
would have to move at America's
pace, but the army was ready to attack and the generals were getting
Nasser was uniting the entire Arab world against
them. He had moved divisions into the Sinai desert, making a direct threat to Israel's
Brig Gen Elad Peled, one
of four divisional commanders, was at the meeting. Peled
told me in 2002: "The mental generation gap was very important. We were
the cowboys, frontier people. We looked at the older generation as people who
were not free, they were not liberated… the minister of education asked me
'what if you're wrong? You're playing with the existence of the state.' I told
him I am 100% confident about the result of the war."
On Friday 2 June, Israel's
generals put the definitive case for war to the cabinet defence committee. They
told the politicians that they could beat Egypt,
but the longer they had to wait the harder it would be.
A few days earlier Meir Amit,
the head of Israel's
spy agency Mossad, had travelled to Washington
DC on a false passport, in disguise. He did
not want to wait longer for war; he was deeply concerned about the shutdown in
the economy caused by the mobilisation of most of the male population under the
age of 50.
Amit told me in 2002 about a crucial meeting he
had with the US
defence secretary, Robert McNamara. "I said… 'I'm going to recommend a
war'. "McNamara asked only two questions. 'How long?'
I said it would take a week. 'How many casualties?' I
said less than the war of independence, which was
6,000. McNamara said 'I read you loud and clear'." The Americans had given
a clear signal. They had been told that Israel
would be going to war and had made no attempt to stop it happening.
Unlike the Egyptians and the other Arab armies, the Israelis had done their
homework. They had flown hundreds of reconnaissance missions over the years to
build up an accurate picture of every airbase in Egypt,
Jordan and Syria.
Pilots had a target book, giving the details of their layouts, call signs and
defences. From radio intercepts they even built up voice-recognition files of
the main Arab commanders.
The attack was a huge success. Field Marshal Amer
and the Egyptian top brass were meeting at Bir Tamada, an airbase in Sinai. They were just starting the
meeting when the first Israeli jets started their bomb runs. Amer's plane was able to take off but at one point had
nowhere to land as every Egyptian airbase was under attack.
Later in the day Israel
destroyed most of the Jordanian and Syrian air forces. Israel
controlled the skies, and after that it was matter of finishing the job. In the
five days that followed Israel
routed the armies of Egypt,
Jordan and Syria.
It captured the Gaza Strip and the Sinai desert from Egypt;
the Golan Heights from Syria;
and the West Bank and East Jerusalem,
For the first time in almost two millennia the Jewish holy places in Jerusalem
were under the control of Jews
Yom Kippur War
Yom Kippur War,
also called the October War, the Ramadan War,
or the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, damaging inconclusive war and
the fourth of the Arab-Israeli wars. The war was initiated by Egypt
and Syria on October 6, 1973, on the Jewish holy
day of Yom Kippur and during Ramadan, the month of fasting in Islam, and it
continued until October 26, 1973.
The war, which eventually drew both the United
States and the Soviet Union
into indirect confrontation in defense of their
respective allies, was launched with the diplomatic aim of convincing a
chastened—if still undefeated—Israel
to negotiate on terms more favourable to the Arab countries.
The previous Arab-Israeli war, the Six-Day War (1967), was followed by years
of sporadic fighting, which developed into a full-scale war in 1973. On the
afternoon of October 6, Israel
was attacked simultaneously on two fronts by Egypt
and Syria. With
the element of surprise to their advantage, Egyptian forces successfully
crossed the Suez Canal with greater ease than expected,
suffering only a fraction of the anticipated casualties, while Syrian forces
were able to launch their offensive against Israeli positions and break through
to the Golan Heights. The intensity of the Egyptian and
Syrian assault, so unlike the situation in 1967, rapidly began to exhaust Israel’s
reserve stocks of munitions. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir
turned to the United States
for aid, while the Israeli general staff hastily improvised a battle strategy.
The reluctance of the United States
to help Israel
changed rapidly when the Soviet Union commenced its own resupply effort to Egypt
and Syria. U.S.
Pres. Richard Nixon countered by establishing an emergency supply line to Israel,
even though the Arab countries imposed a costly oil embargo and various U.S.
allies refused to facilitate the arms shipments.
With reinforcements on the way, the Israel Defense Forces rapidly turned the
succeeded in disabling portions of the Egyptian air defenses,
which allowed Israeli forces to cross the Suez Canal and
surround the Egyptian Third Army. On the Golan front, Israeli troops, at heavy
cost, repulsed the Syrians and advanced to the edge of the Golan plateau on the
road to Damascus. On October 22 the
United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 338, which
called for an immediate end to the fighting; despite this, however, hostilities
continued for several days thereafter and finally ceased on October 26.
Israel and Egypt
signed a cease-fire agreement in November and peace agreements on January 18, 1974. A United Nations
(UN) peacekeeping force established a buffer zone between the two armies. This
agreement was supplemented by another, signed on September 4, 1975. On May 31, 1974, Israel
signed a cease-fire agreement that also covered separation of their forces by a
UN buffer zone and exchange of prisoners of war. In June the oil embargo was
What want to do today is to review the various
Middle East policies of the presidential successors of de Gaulle and then
towards the end I will attempt to place France's performance in the Middle East
in te context of that Patrick Muller has called The Europeanization of France's foreign policy
towards the Middle
East conflict (2013)
Frederic Charillon has taken a
rather vitiated view of France's
successes with its Middle East policies over the last 25
years or so. He notes:
France’s diplomatic sojourns into the Middle East over the past quarter century have only
yielded moderate success. As a former colonial power, an important member state
of the European Union, and a Mediterranean country itself, France rightly considers the Middle East a case study for its foreign policy and
global influence. Yet, its recent diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East and North Africa
have usually shown a fading of France’s political clout in the region. The last
two presidential mandates of Nicolas Sarkozy
(2007–12) and François Hollande (2012–17) have been
marked by several political and diplomatic setbacks. Soon after his election in
2017, Emmanuel Macron tried to take lessons from the past disappointments of
his predecessors, mostly by taking new small-scale initiatives in Lebanon and Libya and planning a more ambitious regional
stance. Yet, as the French republic is not in a position to impose region-wide
transformational policies alone, France needs partners to propose a new agenda.
De Gaulle to
President Georges Pompidou said last
night that France is not going to change its policies toward the Middle East, but that his government would continue its
efforts to bring about a permanent peace settlement in the region and would
“remain faithful to the attitude defined by Gen. de Gaulle.”
He said that a permanent peace in the Middle East
will “have to be based upon respect for the territorial integrity of the
different states involved and upon resolutions adopted by the community of
nations.” He said that France had done everything possible to avert the Six-Day
War, in 1967 and since then “has tried unceasingly and on every level” to find
a formula for peace.
Pompidou believed his outlook stems
logically from General de Gaulle's previous Middle East
policy, which terminated arms aid and cooled relations with Israel.
The President held everything can't be
done by America
alone to insure the Israeli future. The heart of the problem was the need for a
practical, serious international guarantee to insure the validity of a final
And such a guarantee cannot be limited to
obligations by the United States—or
the U.S. and Russia.
It requires backing by other nations including France,
thus reducing the risk of some future superpower confrontation stemming from
As for relations with Arab states,
Pompidou saw them developing logically from the moment of de Gaulle's break
with Israel in 1967 and Pompidou's own initiative two years later producing
France's first major arms‐Arab sale—to Libya.
was now pushing similar bilateral accords with oil producers like Saudi
Arabia, Abu Dhabi
did not see the major energy problem as one of actual shortage, but one of
price. For France,
Italy and Japan—all
relying heavily on Arab fuel supplies—this was a primordial matter, far more
than for the U.S.A.
with its vast resources, West Germany
with its rich coal mines and Holland
with its natural gas potential.
Thus, more than ever, France
tried to develop cooperation with Arab states. Foreign Minister Jobert's held exploratory talks with some Arab capitals.
But despite this the the French rejected the
suggestion that they were in the simple role of arms peddlers, bartering
weapons for fuel. They did admit this is part of the picture—if only on the
same scale as Britain
and much less than is the case for America
Yet Pompidou envisioned progress based
primarily on trading non-military goods for petroleum and finding new markets
for French industry and technology, easing the balance of payments problem
internationally and avoiding the spread of unemployment at home.
When the 1969 Mirages sale to Libya
was arranged, the contract included clause (the French say) insisting that Libya
should not pass the aircraft on to other countries or allow them to be
stationed for any length of time on foreign soil. The President reportedly
contended that this was a “general clause” contained in all such arms
contracts. However, there was little
doubt that some Libyan Mirages were used against Israel
under Pompidou argued that its long‐range
Middle East policy helps keep a “Western” presence among
the Arabs and thus frustrated Soviet penetration efforts.
In interview Pompidou when directly asked said:
Would you tell me what your Middle
East policy is?
Moreover, was the sale of planes to Libya simply to insure France's position in the Mediterranean and access to oil?
Anyone can see that France is seeking ways to reconcile the assertion that
Israel has an absolute right to exist, to function freely and to live in peace
within safe, recognized borders, with our refusal to recognize Israel's right of military conquest.
This was indicative of almost the
whole of Pompidou Middle
East policy - one of
playing both ends against the middle trying to portray France as an honest broker between two
incompatible interests i.e. Israel and Arab nations.
should under stand that France has not forgotten the Nazi martyr dom of
European Jews, including French Jews, whose courage during the ordeal earned
the admiration of all our people. However, France also intends to maintain and develop its
ancient ties with most of the Moslem world and more particularly with the Arab
In the Middle East crisis. France wants and seeks only peace—a peace which believe is indispensable to everyone and first
of all to Israel. This is why we have placed the embargo on the shipment of arms to all
the countries in the field of battle. The fact that at first
this affected Israel in particular is correct. But since then all these countries have
received increasingly powerful arms, sometimes from one nation, sometimes an
other, but never from France."
far as the Libya is concerned, we do not consider Libya directly involved in the conflict between Israel and a certain number of countries,
including Egypt. Naturally, Libya is Egypt's neighbour and an Arab nation. The Libyan leaders have made
declarations of solidarity with the other Arab countries. All this is true. To
maintain that there is no relationship would be contrary to the truth.
France has treated this affair separately for two
reasons: First, our ties with the countries of North Africa and the Maghreb, of which Libya is not an integral part but to which it is
far from foreign. Because of French interests in the Maghreb, our economic, cultural and intellectual
position in that region, we cannot dissociate ourselves from Libya.
consider that it is France's duty to herself, and also to all the western Mediterranean, to look after those interests common to
European and Mediterranean countries.
are not going to seek Libyan oil; we buy oil from Libya, of course, but we are not seeking to
expand our position as regards oil especial in Libya. I repeat, it is a country located at our
very door and at the door of the Maghreb; it is a
country whose oil resources are important for Europe as a whole, not only for
France. It is a country whose strategic position is important.
And how about Israel? Is there any chance in the future of reconsidering the current total
embargo? I am thinking, for example, of spare parts.
I have nothing to add to all that I have said about this previously. I stand by
all the statements I have made since ‐taking
office on this matter; they are in line with my present thinking.
and here is what the
Jewish Telegraphic Agency thought of Pompidou
death of French President Georges Pompidou is certain to spell a change, some observers already say an improvement, in the
tortuous path of Franco-Israeli relations. Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming Presidential elections, due
to take place between April 22 and May 7, a new chapter will probably be opened
in the history of Franco-Israeli ties.
Pompidou, who assumed the Presidency
in 1969 at what was then thought to be the lowest ebb of Franco-Israeli
relations, gave a further turn to the
pro-Arab policy initiated by his predecessor. General Charles
de Gaulle, on the eve on the Six-Day War. It was during Pompidou’s
5-year tenure of office that the French arms embargo became officially total,
concluded an agreement for a massive sale of French-made war planes to Libya,
tried to organize Europe into
a pro-Arab bloc and that France
openly courted and wooed the oil-rich Arab states.
Elysee watchers developed a number of
theories over the years to explain the new turn in France’s policy in the
Middle East. According to some,
Pompidou realized that he lacked the personal prestige and charisma to try and
play a mediator’s role in the Middle East. It
was pointless even trying and, pragmatically, he adopted an open pro-Arab stance. According to others, he firmly
believed that de Gaulle’s reading of the situation as a permanent invitation
for a third world war was accurate.
He also believed de Gaulle was right
in his judgement that peace can only
come through mutual Arab-Israeli concessions–with Israel returning the territories occupied during the Six-Day War and
the Arabs recognizing Israel and concluding a peace agreement.
Giscard d'Estaing -
Giscard, the French claimed that their Middle East policy is equally aimed at producing
overall negotiations. They still found it necessary, after agreeing on a moderate Common Market statement welcoming the Egyptian‐Israeli treaty, although skeptically, to issue a subsequent statement of their own
last week proving that they remain the most pro-Arab of the European
post in 1980 said of Giscard's Middle east policy: it is..."a sign of more balanced
French approaches to the Arab‐Israeli problem than has been the case at times in
According to Giscard d'Estaing:
“My own opinion is that peace is desirable for everyone concerned — the Arabs
and the Israelis. But this
requires a total settlement. The situation cannot be stabilized with anything
less than that. I think much progress
was made In 1976 but this trend was interrupted by the
necessity of national elections in both the United States and Israel. Since then the gradual progress has not
moved in the same way.”
Giscard's broad principles
were that there must be Israeli
territorial evacuations; there must be an autonomous Palestinian state that
could be linked in one or another way to Jordan;
there must be some form of Jerusalem
statute, and also more specific definition of the kind of relations Israel
will have with its neighbours once belligerency ends.
has clearly exposed its own point of view and shown how far it is willing to go
with Israel.” Yet, this being said, it is obvious the world doesn't yet
know how far—or with whom—the other Arabs will go, how far the Israelis will
concede (and to whom), and how successfully the big four external powers can
coordinate their own policies and aspirations.
Giscard took the
view that despite tensions among the Arabs over Egypt's
recent Sinai agreement with Israel.
The Arabs would retain a basic solidarity France. Giscard urged other
West European countries to adopt a sympathetic view of the problems of the
Arabs and particularly of the Palestinians. The French Foreign Minister, Jean Sauvargnargues, was one of the few senior European leaders
to have talks with Yasir Arafat, the head of the
Palestine Liberation Organization.
In 1977 Giscard visited Saudi and demonstrated the
traditional French orientation towards the Arab peoples. French-Arab
relations were strengthened by a French court releasing Abu Daoud,
the Palestinian suspected of organizing the massacre of Israeli athletes at the
1972 Olympics in Munich. Many
critics of the Daoud release accused France
of surrendering to Arab pressure in order to maintain the vital oil lifeline to
the Middle East and North Africa.
Giscard denounced the critic's "campaign of
Giscard noted that the Arab-Israeli standoff will
be settled "in a way satisfying the interests and legal aspirations of the
Palestinians." and added: "We
are not afraid to proclaim our opinion with frankness and we realize that many
other Western European nations have the same opinion as ourselves, though they
do not say so openly and frankly."
Later at that meeting year France
signed contracts with the Saudis for about $1.6 billion.
Despite French attempts to portray Giscard as a
peacemaker - as a mediator, the press at the time noted:
March 1980 - French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing left Saudi Arabia today, concluding an 11-day tour of the Middle East that has helped push Israel deeper than ever into isolation from Western Europe.
The French leader got big headlines
all over the continent for his insistence, in much more specific terms than he
has used previously, on the right of the Palestinian people in
"self-determination" and of the Palestine Liberation Organization to participate in
Despite official Israeli protests to France, the other eight members of the European Economic Community have been making clear their fundamental
agreement with the French position. This includes even the Netherlands, the European government that has
consistently been the friendliest toward Israel, even at the cost of a stringent Arab oil
boycott in 1973.
"We won't let ourselves be outflanked by the British. We'll stay out
front," said a French official. One U.S.
observer said, "The British and French are playing slapjack," a card
game in which the players compete by matching cards of the same value. The
object is apparently to show that each is at least as good a friend of the
Arabs as the other.
France’s national diplomacy were
subsequently incorporated in the EC’s Venice Declaration of June 1980, which represented
the most far reaching EC statement n the Arab-Israeli conflict for many
years to come. Among other things, the Venice Declaration supported the right to
existence and security of all states in the region, including Israel; the Palestinian right to
self-determination; and the association of the PLO with a peace settlement.
While the Venice declaration was a carefully constructed
compromise among the member states, it also testified of France’s remarkable capacity to move European
has commented: (FRANCOIS MITTERRAND AND THE PALESTINIANS: 1956–95) Journal of Palestine Studies Vol.XXXVIII,No.2(
Francois Mitterrand, the longest-serving French president in history,
never ceased to be a passionate advocate of Israel,
in contrast to his Gaullist predecessors. But he was also the most committed to
Palestinian statehood, and among the earliest to insist on the PLO’s full
engagement in the peace process, often at considerable cost to his ties with Israel.
Before his election, had been known in his own right as one
of Israel’s strongest sup- porters on the French political scene. A founder
France-Isra¨el, he had consistently criticized
from the Jewish state.
Given these well-known facts, Mitterrand, once elected, was widely expected to
take France’s Middle
East policy in a sharply new direction. Yet even while his com- mitment to Israel
never wavered, within a year he had gone farther than any of his predecessors on
the Palestine issue, recognizing the
Palestinians’ right to a state. During his two terms in office (1981–1995),he twice proposed—in 1982 and1990—UN resolutions aimed at engaging
the PLO and Israel
in a new political process.
He insisted from an early date that the PLO be a full participant in all
negotiations and was one of the earliest advocates (in 1980) of
Israeli-Palestinian “mutual recognition.” Twice—in the summer of 1982 and in
autumn 1983—he sent French navy and commando forces to rescue PLO fighters
threatened with annihilation in Lebanon, and it was at his insistence that the
PLO was able to leave Beirut with their dignity intact, heads high and flags
flying. Indeed, his unquestionably pro-Israeli bias, far from neutralizing his
drive to win acceptance for the PLO and the concept of Palestinian statehood,
led him to push for these goals even more strongly. Long before his friends in
the Israeli Labor party, he was convinced that
Palestinian statehood and the preservation of the PLO were essential not just
for the sake of the Palestinians, but the long-term interests of Israel.
Marcus has commented: France
has not recognised the PLO nor does it see it as necessarily the sole
representative of the Palestinians. Rather, in President Mitterrand's phrase,
it is seen as the Palestinians' 'fighting organisation' and thus an important
factor in the political equation. France
has long sought to keep the moderates within the PLO in play. This explains France's
role in helping to evacuate Arafat's PLO men after their defeat in Lebanon
In January 1978, at a time when France
under Giscard d’Estaing was openly critical of a
process seen as undermining the comprehensive approach it favoured, Mitterrand
visited President Jimmy Carter at the U.S.
embassy in Paris
Mitterrand was also critical of the landmark June 1980Venice declaration,
adopted at France’s
urging by the European Community, which called for a just solution to the Palestine
problem within the framework of a comprehensive peace settlement.
Mitterrand's disapproval of the Venice Declaration had been based on his
support for the Camp David accords. In his view, the
declaration was too ambitious and undermined the US
approach. He felt the "step-by-step" approach had a much better
chance of success than an immediate global solution to the crisis. In his view,
a comprehensive peace was desirable, but impossible in the short term because
too many players were unwilling to compromise. The end of hostilities between
Egypt and Israel, as demonstrated in the Camp David treaty, was, therefore, an
important first step in the right direction.3 In addition, he felt it was not
the role of the Europeans or France to impose a solution based on the
principles laid out in the Venice Declaration, but instead to encourage
negotiations between the concerned parties.
Yet at the same time, he gave a press conference calling for “mutual
recognition” between Israel
and the Palestinians.
Mitterand visited Israel
in 1982 praising the Camp David agreements and Israel
broad movement towards a policy of withdrawal from the lands seized in 1967.
Mitterand felt betrayed by Menachem
Begin when Israeli troops crossed into Lebanon
in 6th June 1982.
that it was simply pushing back the PLO threat. He proposed the “neutralization
of West Beirut under the monitoring of UN observers,”
presented to the UN Security Council as a French draft resolution. But the Reagan
administration, apparently won over to Israel’s
plan to liquidate the PLO and roll back Syria,
vetoed the draft on 26June. Despite this humiliation, Mitterrand, convinced that
the PLO had to be saved as a negotiating partner for the success of any eventual
political settlement, kept up the diplomatic momentum within the ten-member European
Continuity in French policy has been most evident in the Socialist
government's close links with Iraq.
The close relation ship between Paris
and Baghdad dates back to the
mid-1970s when the Gaullist leader, Jacques Chirac, was Prime Minister.
Several large arms deals were concluded together with many civilian
contracts, including an agreement for nuclear cooperation. Delivery on a number
of these arms contracts was not due until after 1981 and the French Socialist
government, true to its word, has honoured all of them.
continued to supply Iraq
with sophisticated weapons throughout its long-running struggle with Iran.
Indeed, French aircraft and advanced munitions now provide the backbone of Iraq's
strike potential. Indeed, in recent months Iraq
has shown a growing proficiency in its ability to operate its advanced French
weaponry. Since August 1985, Iraq
has mounted a concerted effort to knock out the Iranian oil installation at Kharg Island.
Defence experts suggest that Mirage F-l jet-fighters have borne the brunt of
these operations using French manufactured Exocet,
laser-guided AS-30 missiles and with anti-radar missiles to neutralise ground
outright support for the Iraqi war effort has evoked a mixed response from
other western powers. On the one hand, it was clearly seen to be in the west's
interests that Iran
should not emerge victorious from the conflict. However, there were fears that
the fact that Iraq
has been provided with the means to escalate the fighting could, in turn,
provoke Iran to
widen the conflict, perhaps by striking at other Gulf states .
Such fears were prompted by France's
decision, taken during the summer of 1983, to lease to Iraq
five Super Etendard maritime strike-aircraft for two years.
unrepentant about those arms deliveries to Iraq.
The French government has consistently argued that its support for Iraq
does not mean that it is against Iran.
that it has not taken sides in the Gulf War. French officials stress France's
active diplomacy at the UN in search of a settlement.
Perhaps we can leave it once more to Marcus to summarise the character of Mitterand's Middle ast policies:
Since President Mitterrand came to
office, French policy in the Middle
East has increasingly
displayed a sense of realism, an awareness of France's limited ability to influence developments
in the region. While the goals of French diplomacy have re- mained
broadly the same, in 1981 the people guiding French foreign policy changed and
with them came a new tone.
This change in atmosphere has been
most evident in the markedly better relationship between Paris and Jerusalem. President Mitterrand has himself described
French policy towards the Middle
East as one of being
present and seeking balance and peace. Presence, because France takes its respon sibilities in the world seriously - it is a Permanent
Member of the Security Council and has historic ties with the region. But it is
the search for balance which has most characterised French policy. President
Mitterrand has emphasised that, while France's Arab policy cannot be and never will be
anti- Israel, so its policy towards Israel will not be and is not today anti- Arab.
Clearly, France cannot please everybody all the time, and
there is a risk of falling between two stools and satisfying nobody. However,
President Mitterrand seems to have managed to strike this balance with some
Filiu takes a rather different tone in his assessment
of Mitterand's Middle-East policy:
He was elected president in 1981, at a
time when France
consistently took the lead in shaping the Middle East
agenda of the ten-member European Community. By the time he left office in
1995, his country’s role in the region, as elsewhere, was much diminished, dwarfed
by the overwhelming power of the United States.
Pia Wood has
noted: "Presidents Georges Pompidou
and Valery Giscard
d'Estaing had perceived the advocacy of certain rights for the Palestinian
people to be the best means of supporting French interests, which included the
protection of access to Middle East oil, arms sales to the region, regional
security through a just peace settlement, and the maintenance of French
political influence and independence.
Although both presidents repeatedly declared
their support for Israel's
right to exist, Pompidou also supported "the legitimate rights of the
Palestinian people." Giscard d'Estaing had
called for a patrie, self-determination for the
Palestinians, and sponsored the European Community's (EC) 1980 Venice
Declaration.2 French policies under Pompidou and Giscard
d'Estaing, however, antago-nized both the United
States and Israel.
The United States
believed that European "interference" might undermine its own
efforts, while Israel
adamantly opposed any French participation because of its relations with Arab
countries. Thus, US and Israeli policies threatened France's
political objective of playing an active role in an area of the world deemed
vital to French interests. French policy under Mitterrand has been a constant
attempt to maintain French involvement in the affairs of the
region-particularly the Palestinian-Israeli conflict-despite the role of the United
States as the dominant outside
8 April 1996,French President Jacques Chirac, in the midst of a high-profile
visit to the Middle East, proclaimed to students at the University of Cairo
that "France's Arab policy must be an essential element of its foreign
policy."' Invoking the tradition of one of his predecessors, President Charles
de Gaulle (1958-69) and his famous 'politique arabe,' Chirac stated his intention of giving new momentum
to French foreign policy. He thus signalled his determination to reverse France's marginalization as a political player in
the Middle East, particularly noticeable in the wake of the
1991 Gulf War, and reassert an active and influential French role in the
backing of the "land for peace" option in the Israeli-Palestinian
peace process, its support for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)
and for Palestinian leader Yasir 'Arafat, and its
willingness to denounce certain Israeli practices, such as the building of
settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, contrasted with the more
unqualified US support for Israel.
addition, France opposed US threats to launch air strikes against Iraq to force compliance with UN resolutions, and
was one of the major supporters of the decision in February 1998 to allow Iraq to increase the amount of oil it could sell
under the "oil for food" agreement. France was also critical of the US embargo of Iran and the US policy of "dual containment,"
which penalize foreign companies conducting business with Iran among other countries.
in April 1997, France had successfully urged the European Union to propose a "code of
conduct" whereby the Palestinian leadership would redouble its efforts to
combat terrorism, while Israel would agree to freeze Israeli settlement
building in East
Jerusalem and the West Bank. Netanyahu rejected the idea, maintaining that
Europe's role should be essentially economic. Thus,
France has been unsuccessful in its efforts to use
the European forum as leverage to promote French political ambitions in the Middle East peace process.
mid-1997, it was clear that only the United States could bring Israel back to
the negotiating table with the Palestinian leadership.3I As a result, the
French government stepped back and concentrated on criticizing specific Israeli
policies toward the Palestinians, such as Netanyahu's refusal to carry out
agreements signed by previous governments, and the Israeli prime minister's
decision to construct additional settlements in East Jerusalem.
Chirac sought to readjust the status quo in French policy and shift Paris's
sympathies further toward the Arab world. Speaking in Cairo
in April 1996, Chirac declared, "France's
Arab policy must be a dimension of its foreign policy. I wish to give it a new
boost." The French government expanded its trade and cultural exchanges
with the Arab world.
By 2002, France
was among the top three trade partners for most Arab countries: first in Morocco,
and Saddam's Iraq,
second in Lebanon,
and Syria, and
third in Egypt.
France was also
first among foreign investors in Jordan.
Ahmed Youssef, author of L'Orient
de Jacques Chirac, argues that Chirac's policies have made inroads with the
As soon as the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians
deteriorated, Chirac appeared, in the eyes of Arab opinion, to be the only
Western leader that could counter the unconditional support of the United
States to Israel.
Chirac then became more popular than certain leaders or kings in the Arab
However, perhaps as with Mitterand, Chirac's
pursuit of a
sympathetic line with the PLO and therefore an antipathy towards Israel
would see it) did not ultimately permit him to develop a successful Middle
East policy. The final sings of failure were brought out in 2006
at the end of his Presidency when there was a major spat with his Minister of
Interior, soon to be President, Nicolas Sarkozy.
The FY reported it thus:
Jacques Chirac, France’s president, on
Monday exposed deep ideological divisions at the top of the French government
by rebuking Nicolas Sarkozy, his rebellious interior
minister and likely successor, for toeing an overly pro-US line. Mr Chirac also
set up another possible clash with the US over the Middle East by urging the UN
Security Council to scale down its threat of sanctions against Iran, ahead of
Tuesday’s General Assembly meeting in New York.
The French president, widely expected
to step down next year, is thought to be furious about Mr Sarkozy’s
speech in Washington last week, when the interior minister
criticised France’s “arrogance” in its relations with the US. Mr Sarkozy
struck at the heart of Mr Chirac’s foreign policy legacy by suggesting Paris went too far in 2003 by threatening to use
its UN veto to block a US-led invasion of Iraq.
In a rare radio interview, the French
president distanced himself from his interior minister, saying: “We have
relations [with the US] that can only be between equals, which cannot be a relationship of
submission.” The 73-year-old Mr Chirac defended his opposition to the war in Iraq. “When I look at the situation, I do not
feel I have committed an error,” he told Europe 1, before
flying to New
today’s UN meeting, where he will meet US President George W. Bush.
In a private conversation with aides,
Mr Chirac went further, slamming Mr Sarkozy’s speech
as “irresponsible” and a “lamentable . . . error” that was “a
danger for France”, according to yesterday’s Libération
newspaper. The president sees France as a natural counter-weight to US hegemony. But Mr Sarkozy
wants closer relations, declaring last week: “We must rebuild the transatlantic
relationship on the basis of trust and shared responsibility. I don’t want to
see an arrogant France with a diminished presence.” Mr Sarkozy’s
pro-US stance has drawn flak from leftwing opponents.
former Socialist premier and presidential hopeful, described Mr Sarkozy as “Mr Bush’s future poodle”.
Charillon portrays the decline of France's Middle East
policy influence thus
Chirac led a coalition to oppose the
neoconservative George W. Bush administration’s war in Iraq in 2002 and 2003. Yet in leading this
opposition, France managed only to voice its disapproval without being able to block the
American invasion. Meanwhile, Chirac’s good relationship with Arafat could not
save the Israeli–Palestinian peace process. Also, his personal friendship with Hariri could not stop Lebanon being bombed in 2006 during the Israel–
Hezbollah War. Finally, Chirac’s goal to create a new friendship treaty with Algeria (based on the model of the French–German
relationship) remained unsuccessful.
Chirac’s successors met with the same difficulties attempting to turn
goodwill into political breakthroughs. Just like the 1995 Barcelona
process (largely a French initiative) was ruined by dramatic regional events, Sarkozy’s 2008 project of a union for the Mediterranean
collapsed after Israel’s
war on Gaza in 2008–2009 and the
Arab uprisings of 2011. As such, France’s
initiatives post-Chirac in 2007 were brave but
unsurprisingly met many obstacles.
The Arab Spring deprived France
of long-term allies such as Ben Ali and Mubarak and
caught Paris off guard. France’s
attempt to take the initiative during the Arab uprisings led to its strike
against Gaddafi in 2011, which was at first considered a success because of the
operational military know-how and the last-minute rescue of Benghazi.
However, the resulting regime change and Gaddafi’s demise created a collapsed
state, infuriated many emerging powers, and spread weapons and fighters
throughout the Sahel. The
operation is now considered a strategic mistake by Macron and by Barack Obama.
The biggest French trauma in recent times, though, remained the Syrian civil
war. After the outbreak of the war in 2011, Paris
quickly adopted a tough tone and made the demise of Bashar
Al-Assad a sine qua non or essential condition
for any resolution of the conflict. However, Iran’s support for Damascus,
Washington’s reluctance to strike the Al-Assad regime
in 2013 after the use of chemical weapons against civilians, then the Russian
intervention in 2015, were crucial game changers. As the civil war dragged on,
the French position began to
appear somewhat naive. Finally, with the advent of the Astana process—led by Russia,
Iran, and Turkey—Western
and Arab diplomatic efforts featuring the removal of Al-Assad
were pushed aside.
The sea-change in Sarkozy’s foreign policy, has been the relationship with Israel.
On the ground in Israel,
the relationship between the French Mission and the Israeli public is like day
and night to what it was before. And this despite all the difficulties created
by the Israelis themselves, from Operation Cast Lead in Gaza (December
2008-January 2009) and the storming of the Turkish relief ship to Gaza, the Mavi Marmora, on May 31, 2009, and the ensuing nine Turkish
When Hollande came to power in 2012, French
exports of military equipment were worth $5.3bn. By 2016, the orders amounted
to more than $22bn, a remarkable performance by the French military industry
This recipe for success was not limited to the Arabs, but the contribution
of Arab customers (Kuwait,
and, of course, Saudi Arabia)
to the French military industry's dynamism was significant. The performance of
the French military industry was remarkable under the Hollande
Hollande reaped the rewards of a political
context, the instability and violence that followed the Arab spring, favourable
for France to
increased arms sales opportunities. At the same time France
lacked the inclination to push its allies on human rights, and made the most of
the country's image as a “friend of the Arabs” – probably unjustified – since
De Gaulle’s presidency.
Relations between France and two of its former colonies, Algeria
were largely unproblematic under Hollande. What
were thought to be Hollande's warm sentiments towards
were confirmed by the content of his December 2012 and June 2015 visits,
and by his decision to participate in the March 2016 commemorations of the
ceasefire that followed the Evian Agreements that ended Algeria's
war of independence from France.
In January 2016, Paris
released $1.1bn to help Tunisia with
socio-economic programmes. In addition, the two countries agreed on their security
cooperation, a critical factor for France
given concerns over terrorist risks.
Hollande took great care of his relations with the
Gulf countries, notably Qatar,
the United Arab Emirates
three countries behind military orders worth billions of euros. But it is the
relationship between Hollande and Saudi
Arabia that was significant. The former
president, nicknamed “Hollande of Arabia” by some,
appears to have been at ease with his pro-Saudi inclination, while his predecessor, Sarkozy,
was leaning towards Qatar.
This stance was solidified because the French-Saudi military relationship kept France’s
military-industrial complex busy by injecting billions of euros. Yet Hollande managed to balance this relationship with Saudi
Arabia while leaving the door open for
dealing with Iran.
accession to the Iranian presidency, combined with the seal of conformity
guaranteed by the nuclear agreement, left France
unable to oppose the reintegration of the Islamic republic into the
Former foreign minister Laurent Fabius cast an extremely
suspicious glance on any possibility of granting Iran
nuclear capabilities, pursuing Sarkozy’s policy and
rallying Hollande behind his point of view. But when
the US under
President Obama had validated the return of Iran
to the concert of nations, any obstruction on the part of France
would have proved useless. Rouhani’s visit to Paris
in January 2016 was a strong sign of this French bid to consolidate bilateral
relations. Hollande went so far as considering
investment opportunities in Iran,
a request French manufacturers had made for years.
Syria and Hollande: Holande opted for a strategy that would facilitate the departure
or the fall of Bashar al-Assad.
Recognition of a Syrian ambassador for the Syrian opposition, facilitating of
the strategy of the armed groups fighting the regime, joint action with the
United Kingdom to lift the European arms embargo imposed on rebels, attempts to
promote UN resolutions, in addition to France’s aspiration to highlight the
responsibility of the Syrian regime in the use of chemical weapons, both in
2013 and 2017. Hollande struggled until the end to
find the breakthrough which would bring an end to the Syrian regime
Essentially, Hollande remained in search of an international mobilisation – preferably
led by the US – which would overthrow the Syrian president. Hollande was even
tempted for a while with the idea of assassinating Bashar
al-Assad, but struggled until the end to find the
breakthrough which would bring an end to the Syrian regime
Things got somewhat complicated when the question of bombing IS's positions in Syria
arose. Engaged in the anti-IS coalition in Iraq
since 2014, France
initially refused to extend its action to Syria.
It changed its stance at the end of 2015, deciding to conduct reconnaissance
flights over Syria
to carry out “strikes” against IS, an evolution of strategy that nevertheless
excluded any intervention on the ground.
participation in the anti-IS bombing campaign in Syria
did not prevent the attacks on the Bataclan (November
2015) and in Nice (July 2016). Focusing entirely on a security approach while
eluding questions of French policies in the region, the French government
intensified its resolve in its struggle against IS, opting in return for a lessening of its criticism of Bashar al-Assad. Even in his
official reaction to the Khan Sheikhoun gas
attack in April 2017, Hollande appeared less
confrontational towards Assad.
The Palestine Question and Hollande: This is reflected in France’s support for
Palestine’s bid to gain the status of a non-member state at the UN in November
2012; or in the fact that France voted in favour of a Palestinian resolution at
the UN, giving three years to Israel to withdraw from the territories that it
has been occupying since June 1967 – among other things.
However, important as they may be, these steps have not succeeded in raising
the stature of France
among Palestinians or the Arab world in general. Nor did they show that he
actually wanted to find a solution – and in this case a fair solution – to
Israelis and Palestinians.
'The solution will never be imposed by the international community, never' –
Francois Hollande at the CRIF dinner, March 2017
His refusal to recognise the state of Palestine before the end of his term -
and his last speech as president before the Representative Council of the
Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF) in March 2017, in which he stated that
“the solution will never be imposed by the international community, never”–
eventually symbolised legacy of the Hollande years in the Middle East: a record that
questions whether he ever had a strategic vision, considering the many
contradictions displayed during his term, notably regarding the defence of
human rights, of which France claims to be guarantor.
another example. In April 2016, referring to Hollande’s
visit to Cairo, the media praised
the French president’s courage for mentioning the question of human rights to
his “annoyed” Egyptian counterpart. However, in addition to what was actually
weak criticism of the situation in Egypt
by the French head of state, less attention has been paid to the fact that France,
in a position of strength, confirmed the signing of several investment
contracts during the same visit.
Macron’s has a vision of multilateral
dialogue with all actors - keep everyone talking and negotiating and exchanging
goods - a sort of neo-liberal approach to International Relations
Macron continued his resistance against conservatives in his open contempt of the Donald Trump
administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Macron said in March 2018 about Trump’s decision that he believed it was unfortunate and contravened
international law. He
has gone on to call the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal a mistake and refused
to side with Saudi Arabia or Qatar when relations soured
between the two countries in 2017.
In the cs of Libya, Macron has
increased French visibility as an arbiter between warring factions convening
two meetings in Paris, the first
one in July 2017 with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj,
General Khalifa Haftar,
President of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila
Saleh, and Khaled al-Mishri, head of the High Council of State.
The second meeting was held in May 2018 which led to a fragile agreement
over the planning of elections in December 2018. These were important
initiatives that showed a French will to remain an
actor in the Mediterranean region. These two Libyan meetings were not enough,
however, to bring France
back into the two most complex diplomatic processes of the moment: Syria
and the Palestinian conflict.
Syria. The challenge facing French diplomats
now is how to come back into the region post-Astana, while taking into account
the new balance of power, and the likely political survival of Bashar Al-Assad.
So far, and despite a substantial military presence in Syria
against the Islamic State in Iraq
and Syria (ISIS), France
has yet to offer solutions. Its diplomacy has to take Al-Assad’s
political survival into account, while continuing to state that Al-Assad cannot be the future of Syria.
Palestine and the moribund peace process, Paris
can do little but pay lip service to its official support of the Palestinian
cause and the two-state solution. Before the end of its term, Hollande’s government had organized two conferences on the
Palestine–Israel peace process in Paris
(June 2016 and January 2017), with no results, and in the absence of the main
protagonists. With a U.S. administration now siding clearly with Benjamin
Netanyahu and European partners unwilling to get involved in a viper’s nest,
Paris’s room to manoever remains narrow
Relations with Turkey, Israel, and Iran. Interestingly there has been an absence of strong regional
Arab partners in recent years following the demise of leading Arab foreign
policy voices. As a result, Turkey,
Israel, and Iran
now have the upper hand across the region.
Each of the three leading Middle Eastern powers has complex relations with France.
was among the most skeptical countries about its
application to become a European Union member, now worries about conflicts with
connected to Ankara’s alleged support
of radical Islamic elements in Europe.
former De Gaulle-ian policy (often deemed pro-Arab in
Tel Aviv) harbors uncertainty about France’s
ambitions in the Palestinian–Israeli conflict.
because, as has been stated, Paris
and Tehran have remained at bitter
odds as far as the situation in Lebanon
Charillon's conclusion is that
The Washington–London–Paris axis (or
“triumvirate,” as once hoped for by De Gaulle) is not operating anymore in the Middle East. With Washington abandoning its traditional
role as peace-broker (to grant unconditional support to Israel) and threatening
to withdraw from the Syrian issue, France is now looking in vain for regional
interests that could bring the old partners together again.
Many European leaders now associate
the region with domestic security issues more than with international strategic
considerations. Paris is, unfortunately, no exception to this trend. Yet,
despite the hardships ahead, the Middle East
remains a key test for France’s international influence and political capacity to defuse crises at
its Mediterranean border.