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Mitterrand Proposes E.c. Initiative on Mideast with Arab States and PLO

October 27, 1989
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France is planning on launching a major initiative between the European Community and the Arab states in order to establish a joint policy on the Middle East conflict with the participation of the Palestine Liberation Organization, but not Israel.

President Francois Mitterrand, in an astonishingly strong anti-Israel statement, announced Wednesday night that he will convene a Euro-Arab conference for that purpose in Paris in December.

French sources said the 12 E.C. member states would attend, along with 22 Arab states and organizations, including the PLO. But the conference, by its very nature, excludes Israel.

Jewish reaction so far as been muted but deeply concerned.

Mitterrand dropped his bombshell in the course of an address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the E.C.’s legislative body.

At the same time, the French president, who has been considered a strong friend of the Jews and Israel, expressed anger and disgust with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in some of the harshest terms ever used by a Western leader against Israel.

“What is taking place on the West Bank has lasted enough. It should not take place any longer,” he told a stunned chamber.

“Whatever the dialectic used, nothing can excuse this continued repression, which consists of give-and-take between … the one who kills and the one who is killed,” Mitterrand declared.

He reasserted France’s traditional policy of support for Israel’s right to exist within safe, recognized borders.

But “the Palestinian people has just as justified a right to its homeland, on which it should be able to erect the structures of its own choice,” the French president added.

He said he wants the European Community to deal with this issue, and therefore decided to convene the joint conference with the Arabs to work out arrangements for the Middle East and hammer out a joint Euro-Arab policy.


Israeli circles here and Jewish organizations privately described Mitterrand’s address as a major, and even dramatic, turning point in Franco-Israeli relations that could have far-reaching consequences.

France is not only a major partner in the E.C. but, as current holder of its rotating chairmanship, exerts additional political and economic influence.

France’s tenure ends on Jan. 1, when it will be replaced by Ireland.

Jewish circles fear that the French position will have added impact because of Mitterrand’s personal prestige and because many of France’s E.C. partners hold very similar views on the Middle East, although they have not expressed them in such stark terms.

Moreover, there is fear among Israeli diplomats here that a joint European stand on this issue will influence American public opinion and the Bush administration’s policy toward Israel.

The last serious break between France and Israel occurred in 1967, when President Charles de Gaulle imposed a military embargo on Israel after the Six-Day War.

Franco-Israel relations were also very cool during the Lebanon war.

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