Paris (Aug. 25)
The president of one of the most active Franco-Israeli friendship groups, retired French Army Gen. Jean Lecomte, today called on Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson to resign because of “his inadmissible” pro-Palestinian delarations.
Lecomte, who heads the France-Israel Alliance, rapped Cheysson for having compared Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat to France’s war-time leader Charles de Gaulle during a press conference in Rabat earlier this month and for planning to meet Arafat later this week in Beirut.
Lecomte’s protest, published in today’s Le Monde, describes the planned meeting between Cheysson and Arafat as “an act of hostility towards Israel” and a “continuation of the former Administration’s cynical policy in the Middle East.” In Jerusalem yesterday, David Kimche, the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, protested to France’s Ambassador to Israel, Marc Bonnefous, about the Cheysson-Arafat meeting.
The France-Israel Alliance anti-Cheysson attack is typical of the French Jewish community’s increasing worry about what many here see as a growing pro-Arab slant within the new Administration in spite of President Francois Mitterrand’s personal commitment on Israel’s behalf.
Cheysson himself said today that his forthcoming meeting with Arafat “is far from certain.” The Foreign Minister was originally scheduled to meet the PLO leader Saturday in Beirut but French press reports from Lebanon say that the two sides could not agree where the meeting should be held.
The French want Arafat to call on Cheysson at the French Embassy or at the Ambassador’s residence. The Palestinians say that Arafat has the rank of chief of state or Prime Minister, at the least, and
want the French Minister to come to PLO headquarters. The Palestinians say that such a gesture would show “an improvement in Franco-Palestinian relations.”
French sources exclude the possibility of Cheysson’s acceeding to the Palestinian demand and say Mitterrand has personally ordered him not to give in on this point. The President, who as opposition leader has visited Israel on several occasions, is apparently well aware of the symbolic value which such a visit could have and has ruled it out because of his pro-Israeli commitments.
Arafat met in 1974 with President Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s Foreign Minister Jean Sauvagnargues. The meeting took place at the French Embassy in Beirut but the PLO now want to up their status.
French pro-Israeli organizations are just as upset, if not more, by what they say is a total lack of contact between the Mitterrand Administration and Israel’s leaders though dozens of Arab kings, Presidents and Ministers have been received in Paris, and by Cheysson’s tour beginning Friday of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Mitterrand himself is due to leave next month for an official visit to Saudi Arabia.