The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed late Sunday night that France was initially opposed to the idea of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending Sunday’s historic march in Paris, believing the Israeli leader’s presence at the rally would be “divisive,” as described in Israeli media.
A source in the PMO told Israel Radio that France did not give an official reason for its objection Saturday to the prime minister’s attendance.
According to Channel 2, Paris wanted to avoid any mention of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the rally which was organized in a show of solidarity and defiance after a series of terrorist attacks in the French capital claimed 17 lives, including those of four Jewish men at a kosher supermarket.
When it became clear to French President Francois Hollande that the Israeli prime minister intended to join the march, he phoned to invite Netanyahu personally, according to the report.
Netanyahu initially accepted Paris’s wish that he stay away and on Saturday cited security concerns to explain why he would not attend the event.
However, the prime minister changed his mind later Saturday after Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett announced they would join the march, Israel’s Channel 2 news reported.
When Netanyahu’s office told the Elysee Palace that he would be coming after all, France responded by highlighting that it was extending an invitation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the report. The French government also announced a planned meeting between Hollande and Abbas Saturday night.
On Sunday, Hollande and world leaders, including Netanyahu and Abbas, marched in the mammoth procession, which began near where gunmen killed 12 people at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last week.
Netanyahu was initially situated in a second row of leaders, but shimmied his way into the front row, alongside Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, EU Council President Donald Tusk and Abbas.
Some 1.5 million people marched in the massive rally, the largest of a series of demonstrations around France that brought some 3.7 million people out into the streets, according to figures cited by AFP.
The leaders observed a minute’s silence as the march got underway.
A sea of humanity flowed through Paris’s iconic streets, breaking into applause and spontaneous renditions of the national anthem, as a shell-shocked France mourned the victims of three days of bloody violence.
Organizers put the crowd at the historic march at between 1.3 and 1.5 million.
Emotions ran high in the grieving City of Light, with many of those marching bursting into tears as they came together under the banner of freedom of speech and liberty after France’s worst terrorist bloodbath in more than half a century