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Mitterrand: Israel Has Right to Exist but Palestinians Have Right to a Homeland and Eventually a Sta

December 11, 1981
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President Francois Mitterrand defined France’s dual policy in the Middle East last night. He said it calls for the recognition of Israel and the means to defend itself but also recognition of the Palestinians and their right to a homeland with, eventually, state structures.

Interviewed on television, Mitterrand acknowledged that “we risk (by this policy) being misunderstood by both sides. But there is also a good chance that both sides will understand us and approve France’s position,” he said.

The French President who is scheduled to go to Israel Feb. 10 — the first French head of state to visit that country — declared, “I shall say in Jerusalem what I have said in Riyadh,” a reference to his recent trip to Saudi Arabia. “The main thing is that France now invariably says the same” to all parties.

This was seen as meaning that during his forthcoming visit to Israel he will press for Palestinian self-determination, as he did in Amman, Algiers and Riyadh, but will also uphold Israel’s right to independence and security.

In his interview last night, Mitterrand said: “Israel has the right to exist…One cannot refuse it the means to that existence. It needs security, secure frontiers. Its rights have to be recognized. But in the same way, I will say to my Israeli friends: You must recognize the right to existence of the Palestinian people.”

Mitterrand said the nature of a Palestinian homeland was a matter to be determined by negotiations between the parties concerned and France is not a negotiator. He observed, however, “How can you, without falling into illusion and lies say that there could be a Palestinian homeland but with the Palestinians forbidden to create and defend the state structure of their choice?”


Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson today backed away from some of his pro-Israeli statements and said that certain of his declarations, made in Jerusalem earlier this week, had been “badly interpreted” and do not accurately reflect French policy in the Middle East.

Cheysson played down his earlier pro-Israeli statements after several Arab states protested against the change in France’s policy and indirectly warned that their traditional friendship with France was now at stake.

The French government was also impressed by the violent reaction of most of its European partners. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington and the Dutch and Belgian Foreign Ministers all voiced their protests against what they termed France’s unilateral change of position without prior consultation with its European Economic Community (EEC) partners. French newspapers reported that Cheysson was taken to task last night by both Carrington and West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher with whom he met in Brussels. Both claimed that France cannot speak on Europe’s behalf or make any commitments on its own.


Speaking at a press conference in Brussels today, Cheysson said that the Venice declaration of June, 1980, is still valid “and fits us perfectly.” Toning down his Jerusalem-made promise that there would be no more European initiatives in the Mideast, the Foreign Minister said the misunderstanding arose from “unclear terminology.” According to him, the Venice declaration “is not an initiative” and thus remains valid.

Cheysson said the Venice declaration, which calls for the Palestine Liberation Organization to be associated with the Mideast peace process, “is no longer timely. It has been overtaken in the meantime.” He explained that the acceptance by France, Britain, Italy and The Netherlands to participate in the Sinai peacekeeping force after Israel withdraws from the area next April “takes us much further than the Venice declaration.”

Government officials in Paris went even further than Cheysson in playing down France’s pledges and commitments. Some said the minister’s declarations in Israel “were misunderstood.” Others tried to interpret them in a less binding manner. Diplomatic circles favorable to Israel are nonetheless optimistic, feeling that the government’s lower echelons were still trying to block or slow down the President’s policy.

Israeli sources believe that before Mitterrand arrives, the French stand will have been clarified at a high diplomatic level. “By mid-January, we shall know exactly what the French position is and how it involves Europe” an Israeli source said here today.

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