Interview du Consul Général accordée au quotidien Al Quds
M. Alain Rémy, le Consul Général de France à Jérusalem, a accordé une interview au quotidien palestinien Al Quds, parue le dimanche 17 décembre en page 2.
Cette interview a été réalisée en anglais, durant la semaine précédant la parution, et traduite et publiée en langue arabe :
1) How do you evaluate the French-Palestinian relationship ?
The relationship is good, very strong.
In the past year only, President Chirac has met with President Abou Mazen three times, two at the Elysée (October 2005, April 2006), last time in New-York (mid September). They also speak on the phone regularly. Our Minister of Foreign Affairs has come here four times in the past year, last time, mid September, just for a meeting with President Abu Mazen in Ramallah.
So the relationship is close, good and confident. It has been so for a very long time, at a political level of course, but also between the two populations : there is a keen interest and friendship in France for Palestine.
2) How is your relationship with Mr Abbas ? and did you meet Mr Hannieh ? Or any other PA official ?
My personal relationship with Mr Abbas is excellent. I met him twice last week, in Gaza and in Ramallah. President Abbas is kind enough to agree for a meeting every time I ask for one. I also was with him when he went to Paris.
I never met with Mr Hanieh, nor with any Minister of the Palestinian Government. You know the rules, and I stick to them. But we work with the administration of the PA, with civil servants, usually people we have known and worked with for many years, in order to pursue our cooperation projects.
3) How do you see the International siege imposed on the PA ? Is it fair ? It caused a lot of hardship to the ordinary people-mainly employees/teachers/nurses, administrative staff, ministries and paralyzed the Palestinian economy. This creates hate and animosity towards Israel, Europe and the US what should be done to overcome this ?
The situation you mention is indeed most unfortunate, especially of course for the Palestinian population, who bear the brunt of the suffering. But let me tell you that the political decision which led to this situation has very quickly been followed by a global willingness to revive, to increase, humanitarian assistance, in order to alleviate this suffering. As early as April, in a meeting with M. Mahmoud Abbas, President Chirac underlined the need to maintain assistance to the population.
The European Union has played a major role in this. It is not known, or not well enough. A country like mine not only has continued, after March, to implement most of the ongoing cooperation projects (schools, hospitals, water treatment, training) but has considerably increased its assistance to the population, through United Nations Agencies (UNWRA, World Food Program), and through NGOs, Palestinian and international (Care International, Red Crescent Society, International Red Cross, PMRS and many others). I have personally visited many hospitals, in East Jerusalem, in Gaza and in the West Bank, discussed with the staff, to assess the needs, to see how best we can help them. Today we supply medical products to the Central Pharmacy of the public sector hospitals. French contribution to UNRWA has nearly doubled between 2005 and 2006, to reach nearly 10 million Euros. The same is true for several other organizations.
So a lot has been done, by France, by European countries, to alleviate the hardship to ordinary people. Besides, as you know, France together with Europe, has also consistently called for the release of the indirect taxes and custom duties currently withheld by Israel.
Since the beginning of July, a new mechanism has started working, which you know as the Temporary International Mechanism (TIM), mostly created and managed by the European Commission. Funded by the Commission and by many member states, it covers expenses, pays bills for medicine, electricity, water, fuel. Increasingly, it pays social allowances, to compensate for salaries which are no longer paid to the lower income government employees. Approximately 400.000 instalments have been realized, since July, through this mechanism, mostly in the education and health sectors, for a total amount of 115 million euros. This is a heavy burden for all of us. In addition to our bilateral assistance, France has pledged 15 M Euros to this mechanism.
The question will soon be raised whether we will continue this effort in 2007, as long as a government is not formed with which the international community is able to renew cooperation through traditional channels.
Let me remind you two figures :
The European Union, together the Commission and member states, will have spent 650 M Euros in Palestine in 2006, more than ever before (500 M in 2005). It gives you an idea of the goodwill of European countries toward the Palestinian population. Therefore it is unfair to speak about “hate” or “animosity”, because it is a huge effort by Europe. This is all taxpayers’money. Unfortunately it is not known, or not well enough, by the Palestinians, that so many European countries, France among them, try so hard to alleviate their suffering.
4) What assistance does France give Palestine ?
Altogether, French assistance in 2006 is in the order of 40M Euros, 15M more than last year (+ 60%). It has never been so high.
The biggest share in it is humanitarian and emergency assistance (28 M Euros). To respond to the population’s most pressing needs nearly half of this assistance is provided through the French Agency for Development, our arm for infrastructure and development assistance. AFD has built many schools, water treatment facilities, municipal equipment, both on Gaza and the West Bank. This week, for instance, we signed a new financing convention, for 6M Euros, to be invested in various development projects with the NGO Welfare Association. It may be interesting for your readers to know that since it started operations here in 1998, AFD has committed more than 100M Euros, mostly in project assistance.
But our action cannot always be rendered through figures : France has a unique network of cultural centers, in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Naplouse and Gaza (where we are going to start the construction of a new building). We are also present in Bethleem (Alliance Française) and Hebron (Association of cultural exchanges). In all these places, we try to combine teaching the French language and cultural activities.
5 - 6) What are the trade figures between the two nations ? What are your exports to Palestine ? And imports from Palestine ?
Your trade with France remains globally modest, but encouraging trends are showing. In 2004 France was your tenth supplier and tenth client, for a total of
6M. Euros approximately, according to the French Customs. But our exports have gone up in 2005, from 5,5 (2004) to 7,6 (2005) M. Euros, and still more dramatically our imports, from 563.000 Euros in 2004 to 2,8M. in 2005 (five times more). And this growth has continued during the first terms of 2006, despite increasing difficulties for the circulation of goods. Today the rank of France as a supplier, and more so as a client, is certainly much higher than two years ago.
What do you buy from France ? Very different items, ranging from cast iron pipes, computers, and pharmaceutical preparations, to tobacco, cars and electrical products.
What do we buy from you ? Unwoven textiles have the biggest share, by far (2M Euros in 2005), but we also import fruits, soaps, vegetables, all of which have continued growing in 2006. This growth of your exports to France is very promising, and I hope that the experience accumulated by some Palestinian exporters to enter the French market will be shared with others, through Chambers of commerce, and professional organizations.
7) On the educational level, are there student exchanges between the two countries ?
Yes many Palestinian students are benefiting of exchange programs. Today 80 students are in France with a scholarship of the government, in various fields. Every year twenty students go to France for linguistic training in French. Twenty young teachers also receive a professional training for two weeks.
But numerous exchanges also take place directly between French and Palestinian schools or other institutions. Fifteen pupils of a famous Jerusalem College are going to Nantes for two weeks at the end of this month. Many other examples can be given and many more will come : we want to develop this type of partnership also at the University level (An Najah University in Naplous, for instance, is already linked with the Universities of Paris and Strasbourg).
More generally a large number of youth exchange take place through decentralized cooperation. Many French City Councils, municipalities, general and regional Councils have well established and longstanding relations with Palestinian counterparts, and many young Palestinians travel to France each year in the framework of these relations. Our role is to assist and promote the development of these contacts. It seems crucial to us, at a time when the difficulties of circulation are increasing, that the younger generation be nonetheless given at least some opportunity to travel abroad.
8) How much effect does the EU have on your foreign policy regarding the Palestine/Israel conflict ?
As you know European Union is a member of the « Quartet » (EU, United States, Russia and United Nations), and as such is largely associated with the follow up of the Palestinian-Israeli crisis. The Quartet is a major channel through which the European Union can influence developments in the region.
How much do we influence the European positions ? Honestly, as much as we can. This goes through negotiations with our European partners to achieve a common position, usually during the monthly meetings of Foreign Ministers in Brussels (like the one which took place last Monday and Tuesday), or at European Councils, with Heads of state or government (like the one this Thursday and Friday).
The discussions are not always easy, it is no secret that on some aspects of the conflict, all European countries do not see eye to eye. Experience shows that European Union has achieved better results, sometimes impressive, in the economic and security fields than in the political one. Look at the new Mechanism (TIM), which has been put in place in jut a few weeks, last spring, with 30 European experts working here at full speed as though they had been here for years. Look at the EUBAM mission in Rafah, which has also been put in place in a few weeks, in november 2005, with 80 European experts monitoring the Crossing Point. France has taken a significant part in the creation and in the functioning of these two missions.
In the political sphere though it may be more difficult to achieve such striking results. But France can also take autonomous positions, when it deems necessary (for instance in a recent discussion at the UN Security Council following the tragedy in Beit Hanoun), and propose initiatives, alone or with a few partners. Last August President Chirac proposed holding an international conference on the Middle East. More recently, during their last bilateral summit, Spain and France, joined by Italy, launched an initiative to promote a ceasefire and a number of confidence building measures, in order to stop the rapid deterioration of the situation on the ground and to create the conditions to restart a negotiating process. Now we work to share these ideas with our partners, so that Europe can promote them , or part of them, in international fora, like the Quartet.
In short, the answer to your question is yes, we act in the European framework , we think it is crucial that the voice of Europe be heard, and listened to, on these important problems, and within Europe we try to promote French ideas, views and initiatives. But it does not prevent us from taking a national position when we see it necessary, or with a few European partners only.
Here in Jerusalem, European Heads of mission are busy visiting places, in the West Bank and Gaza, monitoring developments on major issues (East Jerusalem, settlements) reporting to their capitals and to Brussels, taking initiatives, recently, for instance, about the growing problem of access to the Territories. At the local level, too, France tries to contribute to this common work.
9) When will France assume the presidency of the EU ? So that France can exert pressure on the European partners to propose a peace invitation. The US is now semi-paralyze due to the up coming elections and the political map has changed, so could it be an opportunity for the EU to take the lead now for a new peace initiative in the middle East ?
France will assume the Presidency of the EU the first of July 2008, 18 months from now. It will certainly be a good time to take new peace initiatives, but let me express the hope, even the wish, since we are at a time of the year when people do exchange wishes, that the situation will have substantially improved by summer 2008 !
The current status quo cannot go on forever. It is even not a status quo : the situation, specially humanitarian, is deteriorating by the day, the risk of chaos is looming. For France, there are two priorities at this stage : to keep the ceasefire working, and to extend it ; it is fragile, it needs to be strengthened . Our other priority is the creation of a Unity Government with which President Abou Mazen will feel comfortable. This is, in our eyes, the most efficient way out of the current deadlock, the one which can be reached with no confrontation. President Abu Mazen shares our concerns, knows our positions, and we know his. If an agreement can be reached on such an option, it may mark the beginning of the end for the current crisis.
These are my wishes for your readers for the New Year. They can be assured that France will support any step toward peace, any effort toward security, any measure aimed at building confidence, with the global and ultimate aim of establishing a viable Palestinian State. And this we will do, obviously, when we will have the Presidency of the EU, but also all the time between now an then, tomorrow if possible.
Thank you very much.