Despite PM’s ban, French Senate president visits Israel 11 days after UN vote

As Gérard Larcher meets top officials, Jerusalem insists boycott of high-level visits from countries that backed anti-settlement resolution still in place

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin meets with Gérard Larcher, President of the Senate of France, at Rivlin's residence in Jerusalem, January 3, 2017. Mark Neyman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin meets with Gérard Larcher, President of the Senate of France, at Rivlin's residence in Jerusalem, January 3, 2017. Mark Neyman/GPO)

The president of the French Senate is currently visiting Israel, despite Jerusalem’s ongoing boycott of top officials from countries which supported last month’s anti-settlement resolution at the United Nations Security Council.

Gérard Larcher, who belongs to the center-right Republicans party, on Tuesday met with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. And on Wednesday, he is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, opposition leader Isaac Herzog and other senior Israeli officials.

Two senior diplomatic officials in Jerusalem, who both spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, pointed out that Larcher is a member of an opposition party and does not belong to the French government. They added that Israel is still unwilling to host officials from the 14 states that voted in favor of the UN Security Council resolution passed on December 23.

“No high-level visits from countries that voted for Resolution 2334 are due to take place until further notice,” a senior diplomatic official said.

As a consequence of the December 23 resolution, which declares Israeli settlement outside the pre-1967 lines as having “no legal validity” and constituting “a flagrant violation under international law,” the prime minister banned senior contacts with officials from the 14 countries that supported the text. (The US abstained, allowing the resolution to pass).

Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, summoned a dozen ambassadors for dressing-downs, canceled foreign aid to Senegal and Angola, disinvited the Ukrainian prime minister, and declined meetings with the leaders of China and Great Britain. He also instructed his ministers to curtail travel to the countries that voted in favor of the resolution, announced a “reassessment of all of our contacts with the UN,” ordered funding cuts to various UN agencies, and vowed that “there’s more to come.”

He also canceled the upcoming visit to Israel of Senegal’s foreign minister, which would have marked the first arrival in the country of a top official from the Muslim-majority West African nation since relations were established in the mid-1990s.

During his meeting Tuesday with Rivlin, Larcher, whose party is considered more sympathetic to Israel than the ruling Socialists, said he had come to Jerusalem with “a message of friendship.”

“Even when there are disagreements we must continue to speak. You have described the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as a tragedy, a tragedy that can be ended through speaking,” he said. “It is important that between friends we can speak openly.”

Referring to a planned international peace conference in Paris, which Israel has rejected as hardening Palestinian negotiating positions and thus distancing peace, Larcher stressed the importance of “direct negotiations” but maintained that it was the international community’s role “to create the conditions to advance these direct negotiations.”

Rivlin said Israel appreciated France’s concern and efforts to solve the conflict. “Yet, it must be very clear, there are no shortcuts in the Middle East,” he told Larcher. “The solution to the conflict requires two things — to build trust between the sides, and direct negotiations between the two sides.”

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