NEW YORK (Apr. 28)
When French Premier Maurice Couve de Murville, announcing President de Gaulle’s defeat in yesterday’s referendum, said, “beginning tomorrow a new page will be turned in our history,” Israel and Jews the world over began wondering what that new page would say.
Now that Gen. de Gaulle has left office after more than 10 years of maintaining France in his iron political grip, the main contenders for the high post are former Gaullist Premier Georges Pompidou and Alain Poher, the Senate President who today became interim President. If either should accede to the Presidency, what are the prospects for a warming up of the now distant relations between France and Israel? The prospects are good, writes JTA’s Paris correspondent Edwin Eytan. President de Gaulle’s departure following the country’s rejection of his constitutional reform referendum “could mean a new page in Franco-Israel relations,” he said. “Though no one here expects that Franco-Israel relations would automatically revert to their previous close degree of understanding and cooperation, Gen. de Gaulle’s defeat would speed up a process of normalization.” Both Messrs. Pompidou and Poher “are known to be much closer to the sentiments and feelings of French public opinion and to support Israel’s security for a variety of human and democratic reasons,” Mr. Eytan cabled.
Observers in Paris believed that most of France’s 500,000 Jews opposed the referendum, upon which President de Gaulle staked his political future. In contrast, most Jews apparently backed the President and Gaullist candidates in last May’s general election, despite their opposition to his foreign policy, because they were afraid of a possible victory for the revolutionary left-wing.
Since then they have become increasingly embittered by the President’s unilaterally-imposed embargo of last January on military equipment and spare parts intended for Israel and his support for the Big Four talks on the Mideast, opposed by Jerusalem. It was president de Gaulle who conceived the Big Four approach to the Mideast crisis on May 24, 1967 as the Six-Day War neared. He had been a prime mover in bringing it to fruition.
President de Gaulle has been courting the Arabs and trying to re-establish French influence in the Arab world since he settled the Algerian crisis in 1962. Just last Saturday, France and Iraq signed a cultural agreement providing for technical, scientific and educational cooperation.
Informed political sources say that the election of M. Pompidou would probably move France toward a more neutral French line but he probably would fear abandoning the de Gaulle embargo for an indefinite period. It was indicated that M. Pompidou would probably make his “goodwill” views manifest in the Big Four talks. The prospects for a more favorable policy toward Israel were considered much better if M. Poher attained power. He is regarded as a typical representative of France’s usually humanistic and enlightened middle class and himself a warm friend of Israel. There is a general belief that Gen. de Gaulle’s successor must align himself more closely with the pro-Israel sentiments of the French public at large which have been at great variance with the anti-Israel views of the resigned President.
AN IMPORTANT QUESTION–WHAT WILL BE THE FUTURE OF THE MIRAGES?
One of the outstanding questions will be the status of the 50 Mirage V jets ordered by Israel and paid for and which had been embargoed by the President. As a result of this embargo declared on June 5, 1967, the day the war began, the now-produced Mirages are warehoused in France, and Israel turned to the U.S. which decided after long hesitation to sell her 50 Phantom jets. The second embargo was levied following last December’s Israeli commando raid on Beirut airport which angered Gen. de
The French position at the Big Four talks, which are scheduled to resume tomorrow, may undergo changes but certainly not until the new Government takes over. Meanwhile no substantive changes in the discussions are expected at this time, sources said. Even a wholesale alteration in the French position, which has basically paralleled the line taken by the Soviet Union, might not necessarily affect the future of the talks, an observer said, since progress really rests upon United States-Soviet agreement, and talks between Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Sisco and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly F. Dobrynin are continuing apace in Washington. The U.S. has rejected an offered French solution to the Mideast solution. The French delegation to the Big Four meetings, headed by UN Ambassador Armand Berard, would probably adopt a more neutral attitude if M. Pompidou becomes President, cabled Mr. Eytan, and “this would be in keeping with his desire to still further improve relations with Washington.” But he probably would not release the Mirages.
Meanwhile Gen. de Gaulle’s departure has reportedly already struck a heavy blow to Arab interests. The Arab lobby especially in the strong oil industry has not hidden its disappointment. The same tone is voiced by the Lebanese whose cause the former President fully espoused following the Beirut raid.
The low point in Franco-Israel relations began after President de Gaulle declared Israel the aggressor in the Six-Day War. He alienated the Jewish people throughout the world in his famous press conference of Nov. 27, 1967 when he called the Jews a people that was “elite, self-assured and domineering.” He subsequently attempted to water that statement down in a letter to former Premier David Ben-Gurion when he wrote that his remarks were not “pejorative” and that there was “nothing unkind in stressing qualities thanks to which this strong people was able to survive and remain itself after 19 centuries spent in unimaginable conditions…”
Official Jewish bodies in Paris are refraining from any comment until elections are held for President de Gaulle’s successor. But many individual leaders were unable to conceal their satisfaction with developments. Many French Army officers, particularly those who served in French forces during the 1956 Suez campaign and in the Algerian fighting, privately expressed their satisfaction. Israeli circles were taken by surprise by the President’s precipitous downfall,