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News Analysis: French Peace Proposal Irked Israel, Was Part of a Long-term Strategy

January 17, 1991
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France’s failed 11th-hour attempt at peace diplomacy in the Persian Gulf, which received icy receptions from the United States, Israel and French Jewry, is believed to have been part of a long-term strategy devised by President Francois Mitterrand.

Analysts here say Mitterrand, convinced Western Europe will become the world’s new superpower by the end of the century, has been seeking to establish French leadership under the new order.

One of the means toward that goal, they say, is for France to emerge as a mediator between the Arab world and the West, and in a larger context between the advanced nations and the Third World.

But Mitterrand’s latest tactics, especially the French plan to avert a Gulf war submitted Tuesday to the U.N. Security Council and later abandoned, have been based on linkage between an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Seen by Israel and its supporters as a demarche at Israel’s expense, the initiative has succeeded in alienating French Jews and European Jews generally from Mitterrand.

“I am astonished and I regret the French authorities’ attitude, wishing at any price to establish an artificial linkage between the Gulf crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” declared Jean Kahn, head of CRIF, the representative council of French Jewish organizations.


“I regret the French authorities favor a position that I see to be contrary to French interests by supporting the Palestine Liberation Organization in spite of its total lineup on Saddam Hussein’s positions,” Kahn told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Tuesday.

Representatives of Jewish communities in 15 countries affiliated with the European Jewish Congress declared their “total solidarity with the State of Israel” at a meeting here last weekend.

They urged European governments “to reject maliciously false linkages with totally unrelated issues” and warned of “the danger of outrageous compromises whose only consequences would be to lead to new and more devastating confrontations.”

The French plan was flatly rejected by Israel. It got sharply negative responses from Washington, London and from Baghdad, even as the U.N.-imposed deadline for an Iraqi pullout from Kuwait expired at midnight Tuesday.

Nevertheless, French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, though not invited to Baghdad as he had hoped, let it be known as late as Tuesday that he remained available for last-minute peace efforts.

A government spokesman stressed, however, that Paris respects the U.N. ultimatum and would discharge its obligations as a member of the U.S.-led coalition trying to oust Iraq from Kuwait.

On Wednesday, just hours before the hostilities began, the French parliament voted overwhelmingly to authorize the involvement of some 10,000 French troops stationed in Saudi Arabia.

According to observers here, the seeming contradiction between France’s reluctance and willingness to use force was a tactic by Mitterrand to be on the winning side. He has committed sufficient French troops to the Gulf to give him a voice, but not enough to weaken his popularity at home in the event of heavy casualties.

At the same time, he has kept in constant touch with Arab leaders from both camps. He will be remembered by the Iraqis and Palestinians as the man who tried until the very last moment to find a compromise solution for peace.


The French are believed to be planning already for the postwar period, which they expect will be marked for a long time by an abiding hatred in the Arab world of America and Britain, the chief U.S. ally in the Gulf confrontation.

France expects to be asked to play a major role in the postwar period because it participated in the coalition to liberate Kuwait and yet remained on good terms with the Arab countries.

The French informed neither the United States nor Britain of their peace plan until it was presented to the Security Council. Mitterrand reportedly was mute on the subject when he received the British prime minister, John Major, in Paris on Monday.

The American and British envoys to the Security Council both strongly opposed the French plan, under which Iraqi troops in Kuwait would have withdrawn and been replaced by an international Arab force and international observers. The U.N. coalition allies, in turn, would have promised not to attack Iraq.

But the plan linked the Iraqi withdrawal to a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It pledged an international conference for the purpose would be convened at an appropriate time.

In Jerusalem, Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on the plan, saying “Israel opposes any initiative which breaks the international solidarity against Iraq’s aggression.

“Israel also opposes any direct or implied connection with the occupation of Kuwait and the Arab-Israeli conflict,” the statement said.

Mitterrand’s vision of a European-dominated would order is shared by the technocrats in Brussels who run the European Community.

In the French president’s view, Europe will fill the vacuum created by the rapid deterioration of the Soviet Union and the alienation of the Arab world by the United States.


Britain, in the French view, will play a relatively minor role, because it will be perceived as an appendage of Washington.

Germany and Japan will, of course, be the economic superpowers. But in Mitterrand’s view, Germany cannot challenge French political preeminence on the continent while its energies are expended trying to digest unification.

Should the expectations of France and the E.C. bureaucrats materialize, Israel could be the big loser. Western Europe was advocating an international conference for Middle East peace long before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and tried to impose linkage.

But according to observers, Mitterrand, who is not unfriendly to Israel, believes Israelis in the long run will attain the stability and security to which they aspire.

The JTA Daily News Bulletin will not be published on Monday, Jan. 21, which is Martin Lurth King Day in the United States.

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