Israels president gets pomp and praise in France, along with a critique

paris | President Jacques Chirac on Monday, Feb. 16, said France will always staunchly defend Israel’s right to exist but that the Jewish state must make greater diplomatic efforts if it wants to live in peace with its Arab neighbors.

Chirac, speaking after a 90-minute meeting with visiting Israeli President Moshe Katsav, also said labeling France as anti-Semitic because of an upsurge in violence against Jews here was an unfair attack on the nation’s honor.

Katsav arrived in Paris on Feb. 16 for a pomp-filled state visit aimed at reversing deteriorating relations sparked by anti-Semitic incidents and criticism of Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians.

The Israeli leader said his nation cannot achieve peace no matter how ardently it is desired because of “the fight within Palestinian society between the forces of destruction on the one hand and the forces of construction on the other.”

“We cannot negotiate with extremists who talk about destroying Israel,” he said.

The French leader acknowledged that violence by extremists in the form of terrorism had inflicted a “heavy and cruel” price on Israel and that France would always support its right to exist.

But while Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorism, the Jewish state’s “security can only come with peace,” Chirac said, adding that any solution must result in Palestinians living “with dignity” in their own viable state.

Diplomats say Katsav’s visit gives France a chance to show that its close ties with the Arab world do not preclude a larger role for Paris in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

France has been harshly critical of the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and has repeatedly called on him to dismantle Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands, and lift crushing trade and travel clampdowns on Palestinians that have crippled their economy.

France also opposes a separation barrier Israel is building to keep out Palestinian attackers. Palestinians charge the barrier constitutes a land grab, since it cuts deep into the West Bank at some points. Hundreds of protesters opposed to the wall held a demonstration Monday at Place de la Bastille in eastern Paris.

Israel, for its part, has castigated the French for not doing more to stem an upsurge in anti-Semitic acts in France, often blamed on French Muslims taking out their anger over the situation in the Middle East.

Katsav also met with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, said to have pushed hard for a conciliatory visit.