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Alain Gresh

Why France must do more than just recognise Palestine

Recognition by France will do little to aid the Palestinians [AFP]

Date of publication: 29 November, 2014

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The recognition of the state of Palestine will do little for Palestinians. France must go beyond the symbolic, and act directly against Israeli aggression and occupation.

On 29 November the French parliament will debate a motion calling for the recognition of the state of Palestine. It is a symbolic date - on the same day in 1947, the UN General Assembly voted in favour of partitioning Palestine.

The discussion will be followed by a 2 December vote in parliament, and a vote by the Senate on 11 December.

But the motion, tabled by the Socialist party, is non-binding and authority rests with the French government.

These debates are part of a movement that gathered pace with last summer’s war against Gaza. Sweden, the UK parliament and the Spanish congress all adopted texts recognising a Palestinian state.

As for the European Parliament, under Israeli pressure, decided to postpone a vote that should have happened on 27 November.

On repeated occasions over recent months, France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, has stated that Paris would recognise the Palestinian state when the time came.

"The question is when and how?" he told Liberation earlier this month. "Because recognition must be useful in the effort to move beyond a stalemate, and contribute to a definitive solution to the conflict.

"Up until now, prevailing thought has stated that recognition should be linked to negotiation. But if that negotiation doesn’t happen, or it doesn’t have a successful outcome, France must face its responsibility."

Smoke and mirrors

In part, these statements are an attempt to distract from the shameful remarks made by the French president, Francois Hollande, during Israel’s recent attack on Gaza. In a telephone conversation with the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, Hollande assured him of his solidarity, and of the fact that Israel had the right to defend itself, making no mention of Palestinians.

Greeted with indignation, the prime minister's office changed its stance, reiterating that France’s position, "remains built on balance".

Balance between the occupier and the occupied? Between the roughly 2,200 Palestinian deaths (two thirds of whom were civilians) and the few dozen deaths (the majority of which were soldiers) on the Israeli side?

     what will the vote at the French parliament change? Very little, other than representing a symbolic victory for the Palestinians.


When General Charles de Gaulle criticised the Israeli aggression of June 1967, he was not demonstrating balance. When, during his famous visit to Jerusalem in 1996, Jacques Chirac expressed outrage at the behaviour of occupying troops, he was not demonstrating balance.

It is true, however, that there has been a fundamental shift in the French position over the last 10 years.

The "love for Israel" to re-use Hollande’s words during his trip to the country in November 2013, is now a pillar of French diplomacy. It is not just about philosemitism, but the determined support for a country that is supposedly at the forefront of the fight against Islamic extremism, an outpost of the West.

This was in fact the central idea of the founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, who anticipated a Jewish state as a European bastion against "Asian barbarism".

Selective indignation

This is borne out in European politics today, with most of the major forces of the extreme right-wing having put anti-Semitism into the box of outdated accessories, replacing it with militant Islamophobia as well as unconditional solidarity with Israel.

As the journalist Armine Arefi put it on the Le Point website in July, this reorientation brings with it, in this conflict, a "selective indignation", as shown by the French ambassador’s visits to the south of Israel, to reassure "our compatriots" who are there – the same ambassador who saluted the "brave commitment" of French citizens serving in the Israeli army.

In this context, What will the vote at the French parliament change? Very little, other than representing a symbolic victory for the Palestinians.

Why? Supposing the two-state solution is still possible despite colonisation, the question is whether recognition brings it any closer. It does not put a stop to the expansion of the settlements, nor to the ‘Judaisation’ of Jerusalem.

And what can be said of the situation in Gaza, where reconstruction is blocked by the Israeli siege, aided by the Egypt of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and where the EU, once again, discredits itself by endorsing a return to the status quo?

Recognition of the Palestinian state must go beyond the merely symbolic.

France should recognise that the so-called peace process is leading nowhere and that the only obstacle to negotiation is the Israeli government. It should take up sanctions, and ban French citizens and businesses from working with or in the illegal settlements. It should ban French citizens serving in the Israeli army. It should insist the EU suspends its partnership agreement with Israel.

General de Gaulle would not have hesitated in taking such measures. It is doubtful, however, that Hollande ever will. 

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