Bypassing Israel, French capital endorses unprecedented agreement with ‘East Jerusalem’

Israel’s Foreign Ministry says the agreement reflects a ‘make-believe world’

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

France’s most populous administrative zone, encompassing the capital Paris, has signed a cooperation agreement with the Palestinian district of Jerusalem, a move organizers say is designed to send a “political message” of solidarity with the Palestinians and their aspirations for a future capital in the city.

The French region described the agreement as the “first of its kind.”

The decision is a blow to Israel’s claim that the eastern sector is part of its united capital. A spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry said east Jerusalem “does not exist” as a separate entity and that the French council was “living in a make-believe world.”

The Regional Council of Île-de-France voted September 28 in favor of a “decentralized cooperation agreement” with the Palestinian Authority (PA) district of Jerusalem, making it “the first French community to sign an agreement of cooperation with the Arab part of the holy city,” a statement on the council’s website read. The agreement is to be officially signed during the month of October.

Israel extended its sovereignty to the entire city of Jerusalem following the Six-Day War of 1967, and does not recognize the PA’s Jerusalem district, which incorporates some 400,000 Palestinian residents in Jerusalem and its outskirts.

Île-de-France has earmarked 300,000 euros for the cooperation agreement, which will support vocational training, entrepreneurship, culture, health and social action, as well as “institution building.”

In Jerusalem, 78 percent of Palestinian inhabitants live below the poverty line, the statement continues, and the French projects will focus on “improving the living conditions of local populations.”

The agreement was initiated in early 2011 by Green Party councilmen Jacques Picard and Michel Bock, who also serves as chairman of the international and European action committee in the  regional council of Île-de-France.

‘That Palestinian entity [the Jerusalem district]  does not exist,’ Hirschon told The Times of Israel. ‘[the French Region] seems intent on ignoring reality and living in a make believe world’

Picard told The Times of Israel that the idea of collaborating with a Palestinian district was first raised in 2004. It was only natural to twin Paris with the capital of the future Palestinian state, Jerusalem, he said.

“There is very high sensitivity to the Palestinian cause in France,” Picard said. “This symbolic move is certainly intended to send a political message. If such regional exchanges can contribute to peace, all the better.”

Picard noted that the cooperation with Jerusalem was endorsed by French Minister for Cooperation Henri de Raincourt in a public speech delivered in Hebron in January 2012.

Paul Hirschon, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said the ministry was unaware of the agreement. But he added that such initiatives discouraged the Palestinians from returning to the negotiating table with Israel.

Île-de-France has designated 300,000 euros to the cooperation agreement, which will focus on vocational training, support of entrepreneurship, culture, health and social action, as well as institution building.

“That Palestinian entity [the Jerusalem district]  does not exist,” Hirschon told The Times of Israel. The French council, he said, “seems intent on ignoring reality and living in a make-believe world.” The Jerusalem municipality was also unaware of the agreement.

Picard said that under French law his regional council was not obligated to coordinate with the Israeli government, or the French, on decentralized cooperation agreements. Thirteen such agreements already exist between Île-de-France and other regions — primarily state capitals — including Beirut (Lebanon), Yerevan (Armenia) and Hanoi (Vietnam).

The Palestinian governor of the Jerusalem district, Adnan Husseini, was abroad at time of publication and was not available for comment.

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