Just one foreign flag hung on the corridor’s window in the Muqata [Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah]. Written on the flag were the words, “Merci France.” I say “Bienvenu” to François Hollande, the third French president to visit us (and Israel), after the visits of Jacques Chirac in 1996 and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008. Why do I say that? Because Hollande is the head of a major state [who] established a tradition for the heads of major countries to lay a wreath on the tomb of President Yasser Arafat.
France is a pioneer for Western Europe regarding the Palestinian issue. François Mitterrand was the first Western European head of state to receive Arafat ... That gesture resulted in reactions to which Mitterrand [in turn] responded by saying that others will follow in his steps. Then Arafat responded to a request from Mitterrand and said the keyword caduc (French for “obsolete”).
After the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established, President Chirac was the first president of a major power to visit Ramallah (and East Jerusalem). He walked with Arafat through the city streets during his visit to the Church of Saint Hanna (one of four churches under French protection). Chirac had a verbal altercation with his Israeli guards and told them to stop suffocating him. “I am among friends,” he said. In 2009, Palestine and the Ramallah municipality returned Chirac the favor when President Mahmoud Abbas inaugurated a street named after him.
We rarely pay attention to political-diplomatic traditions. Important visitors and presidents visit Israel and Palestine together, as if they were “one diplomatic arena.” Why? In 2008, President Sarkozy visited Israel and met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. He gave a speech in the Knesset. He told Israel, “It’s madness not to recognize a Palestinian state.”
Will the Palestinian president start a new diplomatic and political tradition by receiving in the Muqata only important visitors and presidents who plan to pay their respects to the founding father, Yasser Arafat? Will he begin to otherwise receive them in another place, such as Bethlehem or Jericho?
Mitterrand, a Socialist, was one of the most cultured French presidents. He visited Israel in 1982. A few years later, he was the first [French president] to receive Arafat at the Elysée. Afterward, Paris became the key gateway for Palestinian diplomacy in Western Europe.
France helped Israel build the Dimona nuclear reactor. The 1956 Suez War (the tripartite aggression) happened during the reign of the Socialists. But in the wake of the Six-Day War (June 1967), President Charles de Gaulle sent a historic, critical message to Israel. He stopped sending them arms and described the Jewish people as “self-righteous and domineering.”
Now, a Socialist French president has visited Israel and Palestine. He laid a wreath on Arafat’s tomb. The PA and the Palestinian people are awaiting the French report about Arafat’s death, whose cause [might be] known by Chirac, since he was the supreme commander of the army and the Percy hospital, where Arafat died, is a military hospital.
We may disagree with the policy of Socialist France toward Syria. France and the US will agree on an Iran policy in two days. No matter what is said about France’s ambition to recover its influence in the Middle East, what Palestine cares about is France’s policy toward it.
Israel will warmly welcome Hollande, perhaps to spite President Obama. And Egypt may receive a Russian political-military delegation to express its resentment of America. But what’s important is that Hollande [would decide to] put a wreath on the tomb of Arafat, the founder of the state of Palestine. It is perhaps a simple solution to the crisis because giving a speech to the Knesset [à la Sarkozy] was not on the program. The Knesset will [instead] hear the speech of another French president, and the state of Palestine will achieve a symbolic gesture that confirms what Sarkozy said to the Knesset: “It’s madness not to recognize the state of Palestine.” Maybe if our parliament were functioning, Hollande would have given a speech there too.
Heads of state visit us for hours while they visit Israel for days. No problem. The Palestinian guest palace is ready to host the world’s presidents when we become a genuine state, one that is not just about protocol.
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