JERUSALEM (Oct. 22)
Marring an already strained visit to Israel, French President Jacques Chirac got into an altercation with Israeli security guards during a visit this week to Jerusalem’s Old City.
Red-faced and elbows flailing during the visit Tuesday, Chirac snapped angrily at the security guards, demanding that they allow him to greet Palestinians.
But the tight ring of Israeli security forces continued to force Arabs to remain in their shops and to keep journalists away from the French leader.
“Go away,” Chirac snapped at the guards, clearly angered at their attempts to keep Arab well-wishers away.
“This is provocation. Stop this now. Do you want me to go back to my plane and go home to France?” he protested in English to the head of security.
French diplomatic officials submitted an official complaint to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later apologized at a joint news conference with Chirac for what he described as “perhaps excessive zeal in trying to protect a friend.”
Netanyahu explained that a high level of security arrangements had been adopted in Israel for visiting foreign leaders since Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination one year ago.
Chirac said that in light of the apology, he considered the matter closed.
Despite the apology, Netanyahu made it clear that he did support granting France the greater role it seeks in the Middle East peace process.
“The solution between the parties has to be achieved by the parties themselves,” he said at the news conference.
But Chirac stuck to his guns.
“If there is anything I can do to promote a better understanding between the different partners in this region, I will do it with all my heart,” he said.
Chirac arrived in Israel after talks in Damascus with Syrian President Hafez Assad.
The French leader attended a brief session of the Knesset convened Tuesday in his honor.
Chirac, who was slated to address the Palestinian legislative council later in the week, did not speak before the Knesset.