PARIS (Dec. 16)
Premier Jacques Chirac broke precedent Wednesday by formally receiving, for the first time, a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Ibrahim Suss, who heads the PLO office in Paris, was part of a delegation of Arab ambassadors who called on Chirac to protest Israel’s “repressive” actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They urged French diplomatic intervention “to stop the bloodshed.”
Chirac, leader of the center-right government, has been actively wooing the Jewish vote for the past six years and until now has flatly refused to meet any PLO representatives. His diplomatic adviser, Francois Boujon de I’Estaing, refused to comment on the meeting with Suss.
But Arab sources said Chirac “could not do otherwise in the face of the increasing number of Palestinian victims.”
The French government also made a significant switch in attitude toward the Middle East peace process when it called on Israel Tuesday “to start a dialogue and negotiations’ with “all interested parties within the framework of an international peace conference.”
Until now, France has carefully avoided taking sides on the issue of an international conference, which has sharply divided Israel’s coalition government.
‘WORRY AND EMOTION’
But the statement read to the press after France’s weekly Cabinet meeting Tuesday, presided over by President Francois Mitterrand, expressed the government’s “worry and emotion” over the continued violence and loss of life in the Israel-administered territories.
The statement said convening an international peace conference “was now more urgent than ever before.” Government spokesman Andre Rossinot stressed that this view was shared by both Mitterrand, a Socialist, and the conservative Chirac.
Sources here said Wednesday that the French ambassadors in Washington and London will urge the United States and Britain to support convening an international peace conference at the earliest moment, with the participation of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and all “the concerned parties.”
At the same time, the central body of French Jewish organizations, CRIF, which represents the country’s 600,000 Jews, called on Israel to open “a real dialogue for peace.” It deplored “the loss of life” in the recent violence in the territories.
Chirac’s response to the Arab envoys who visited him was reported to the press by Boujon de I’Estaing. He said the premier told them that France is in contact with its European Economic Community partners for a possible joint statement on the situation in the territories.