Through Conflict and Cease-fire, France Supports Palestine

Laurent Fabius.Photo: Flickr.com/MEDEF

Laurent Fabius.
Photo: Flickr.com/MEDEF

Palestine is rapidly gaining ground in its fight for statehood. On November 30, Palestine gained recognition as a United Nations non-member observer state.

On Tuesday November 27, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had said that France would approve Palestine’s bid as a non-member state of the United Nations on the behalf of the Hollande government. “When the question is asked, France will vote yes,” proclaimed Fabius.

This casts a stark contrast with the position of the United States, who affirmed its staunch opposition to Palestine’s bid.

“We think it’s going to be a mistake,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “With regard to France and any other countries, we obviously disagree with our oldest ally on this issue. They know we disagree with them.”

France is certainly not alone in its decision – Switzerland and Denmark also affirmed their support for the bid. According to Danish minister Villy Sovndal, the bid’s text positively emphasized the need for peace talks and negotiations. France joined a long list of European countries that have voiced their support for Palestine.

Much significance is attached to this development in light of the recent conflict and subsequent cease-fire between Israel and neighboring Hamas rulers. Sunday November 25, the violence between the two warring regions prompted Fabius to visit Israel last Sunday with the official goal of calling for a cease-fire.

Israel and Hamas rulers agreed to a cease-fire last Thursday after eight days of conflict. The truce remains tension-heavy, however, as both sides remain deeply mistrustful of the other, especially after prominent political figures weighed in on the conflict.

While the violence has ebbed for now, many worry that the underlying issue of the violence has not been addressed. Prior to the cease-fire, officials affirmed that at least 165 Palestinians and 8 Israelis were killed in the eight-day conflict. As per the initial terms, Israel and Hamas agreed to immediate termination of all hostilities and target killings, with Hamas also agreeing to a cease-fire along the Gaza fence. Further terms are still in talks, under Egyptian mediation.

The truce took effect after a violence-heavy Wednesday night, during which nearly a dozen rockets were fired. Fabius had maintained contact with officials from Egypt, Jordan, and the Arab League. It is through them that are made contacts with Hamas, with which France has no official dialogue.

Fabius incited controversy last week when he asserted that Iran’s responsibility is “extremely heavy” in the Gaza conflict. He pointed out the Hamas use of advanced arms – Fajr-5 rockets, long range weapons that reach up to 75 kilometers – which he attributed to Iran. As he told France Culture radio on November 21, “One finds Iran in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq, in Gaza and each time with very negative intentions.”

Prior to the interview, Fabius affirmed France’s neutrality and asserted its desire for peace. “Our support for the Palestinian cause is not contested, and yet we still have contacts with Israel,” he said. “We are almost the only ones in this position. We speak to each side, we are recognized by each side, and we want peace.”

Iran reacted angrily to Fabius’s comments. It denied that it provided the Fajr-5 rockets for Hamas and accused Fabius of an unrealistic perception of the situation. It also blamed Israel as the sole guilty party for the conflict in Gaza.

Despite this, France has asserted its neutral position in the Middle East. Fabius denied that Paris would be breaking the European embargo on arms to Syria, and urged the European Union to provide “defensive weapons” to Syrian rebels.

Here, France’s position was also markedly different from that of the U.S., who had asserted its support for Israel. Both Israel and the U.S. denounced the bid; according to the U.S., the only viable route to Palestinian statehood was negotiations and direct talks with Israel.

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