PARIS (Mar. 9)
Like the “Saffibs” of the former British empire, French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing loves Arab lore and traditions. Those who know him well say that he likes to lounge on a priceless Persian carpet in the tent of an Arab oil-rich sheik, review the men of King Khaled’s Black Guard, or engage in the “sports of kings,” falcon hunting with a bird of prey soaring in the skies.
Last weekend Giscard went gazelle hunting with a diamond encrusted rifle in the Jordan desert. King Hussein, an old friend who knows the President’s weak spots well, took him hunting “traditional Arab style,”
The French President has often acted, in both internal and foreign affairs, according to subjective motivations. His government includes, or has included a couple of princes and a half dozen counts. His wife is a descendant of half a dozen kings. He himself claims to be a scion of Louis XIV and his intimate circle of friends generally consists of dukes, princes and an occasional billionaire.
In foreign affairs he has launched France on an ambitious and independent policy which makes him feel the equal of the world’s main leaders. French paratrooper have intervened, rapidly and abruptly, in half a dozen African states and French diplomacy is persistently trying to deal as an equal with the United States and the Soviet Union.
In the Middle East, Giscard has tried to pursue on independent and increasingly pro-Arab policy since his election. It was for him, at the time, both a question of France’s interest and a symbol of prestige and independence.
FRANCE LEADS THE WAY
Only a few months after his election, in April 1974, when practically all of Western Europe was still staunchly pro-Israel and Jerusalem and Washington were in the heyday of their friendship and cooperation, Giscard’s Foreign Minister Jean Sauvognargues met and shook Yasir Arafat’s hand in Beirut. The incident, now half-forgotten, practically marked the Palestine Liberation Organization’s official entry onto the international scene.
Since then, France gave the tone and marked the increasingly pro-Arab West European line. It was France which first spoke of a Palestinian homeland, France which welcomed a PLO office in Paris, France which failed to welcome Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem and led an offensive of ice-cold indifference to the Camp-David agreements.
Giscard’s declarations last week, calling for Palestinian “self-determination” which implies the creation of a Palestinian state, gives another and still sharper pro-Arab turn to his Middle East policy.
REASONS FOR THE INITIATIVE
A number of reasons have prompted this new initiative. There are concrete material interests aimed at reducing France’s important economic deficit in its trade with the Arab world. Last year alone, France imported $6 billion worth of oil from Saudi Arabia and $2 billion more from the other four Persian Gulf states: Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. It sold them slightly over $1 billion worth of goods, mainly arms.
France believes that by improving its ties with them, it can also improve both its economic situation and ensure a guaranteed flow of oil in coming years. Saudi Arabia supplies 40 percent of France’s oil consumption and the other four states, another 15 percent.
But, it would be both unfair and inaccurate to attribute Giscard’s increasingly pro-Palestinian policy to material considerations.
According to the French official analysis, the Arab world, and especially Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, are increasingly disappointed with Washington. This, both because of America’s failure to support the regime of the Shah of Iran and because of what the Arabs claim to be its continued pro-Israeli policy.
The French believes that the time is ripe to try and step into America’s shoes and slowly replace U.S. political and economic influence.
French officials openly confess that Western Europe, led by France, could play the major role in the Arabian Peninsula and for the first time fully enjoy the fruits of such a cooperation. The French are also worried by both increasing Soviet influence and by the dangers of instability and possible revolutions. The Giscard government is probably the world’s staunchest supporter of stability throughout the third World.
It has rapidly intervened militarily throughout Africa whenever it felt the stability of the regimes in power threatened. French paratroopers and planes operated in Chad, Mauritania, Zaire, Djibuti, the Central African Republic and more recently in Tunisia.
Even at Mecca, during the recent attempted religious zealots’ coup, France reacted at once. Within a few hours, after the Saudi request, it flew military experts and technical equipment to help put down the revolt.
The official French analysis believes that the basic factor of instability in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and even Jordan are the Palestinian refugees. French experts incessantly. repeat that until their problem is solved the whole area is threatened with chronic instability and a new Iranian situation could occur at any time, anywhere throughout the Arab world.
Giscard feels that Western Europe is increasingly leaning towards the Palestinian side. A French initiative in this respect would give him the political leadership within the European Economic Community (EEC), to which he openly aspires.
SUPPORT FROM EEC NATIONS
At least seven EEC member states, Britain, Italy, Belgium, Ireland, West Germany, Spain and Portugal, increasingly tend to support a recognition of the PLO and a revision of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. France feels that West, Germany, because of its Nazi past, cannot take an initiative in this field and that Britain is too weak within the EEC to lead. France’s initiative, Giscard believes, according to his advisers, could help him assume the political leadership he wants.
Two days before he left for Kuwait he held a long telephone conversation with West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt who reportedly backed him to the hilt. Three days after Giscard’s declaration on Palestinian self-autonomy, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher made a similar statement.
The French initiative is dangerous in that, as analysts view it, it encourages the Palestinians and most of the Arab states to resist the Camp David agreements; and that it also seeks to influence America’s own policy, especially if France manages to establish the impression that it is speaking in the name of West Europe as a whole.
Meanwhile, for the time being, neither the French Jewish community nor Israel’s non-Jewish friends in France have reacted in a vigorous and sustained manner against Giscard’s policy. Giscard, himself, appears to feel that his pro-Palestinian policy will cost him few electoral votes and the loss of minimal sympathy when he runs for reelection a year from now.