In seeming defense of Orange, French diplomat slams settlements

After telecom titan’s decision to cut ties, France’s US envoy — a previous ambassador to Israel — says it’s ‘illegal to contribute’ to occupation of West Bank in any way

Illustrative photo of a West Bank settlement, December 17, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a West Bank settlement, December 17, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

After French telecom giant Orange said it would cut ties with an Israeli company, France’s ambassador to the US Gerard Araud on Thursday appeared to defended the company’s move, saying it was “illegal to contribute” to occupation of territories under international law.

The statements on Twitter by Araud, who served as France’s ambassador to Israel from 2003-6, came as Israeli government officials urged Paris to condemn Orange’s decision to terminate its contract with Partner Communications, which Jerusalem says is part of a larger pro-Palestinian effort to impose a boycott on Israel.

There was no immediate official reaction from Paris, which owns a 13 percent stake in Orange, but Araud seemingly expressed support for Orange’s decision to cut ties with Israeli licensee Partner Communications, which pays to use the Orange name and operates in Israel and in settlements in the West Bank.

On Wednesday night, Orange CEO Stephane Richard had said he would leave Israel “tomorrow,” if not for possible financial penalties, indicating that the move was intended to soothe Arab concerns over the company’s dealings with Partner, following a report calling on Orange to divest from the country.

Shortly after Richard’s remarks ignited a firestorm of condemnation in Israel, Araud tweeted that “4th Geneva convention: settlement policy in occupied territories is illegal. It is illegal to contribute to it in any way.”

Israel advocates then inquired whether his remarks applied to Western Sahara, Tibet and North Cyprus as well as Israel.

On Thursday, the diplomat, who took up the post in Washington last fall, responded, saying “I speak of one occupied territory. I am answered on other territories. I conclude that everybody agrees on what I say on the former.”

“Why to argue [sic] about a territory recognized as occupied by 190 countries, its own population, the ICRC, 2 Gen Conv state parties conferences?” Araud added, indicating he referred to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Paris is reportedly pushing for a United Nations Security Council Resolution setting an 18-month timetable for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which would force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank by 2017.

The French Foreign Ministry deems the construction of Israel settlements in the West Bank “an illegal appropriation of lands, which should be addressed in peace negotiations between the parties on the basis of the 1967 lines.”

“Settlement activities threaten the viability of a two-state solution,” the Foreign Ministry website says.

Israeli leaders on Thursday urged the French government to condemn the Orange move, which the French telecom giant said in a statement was not politically motivated.

“I call on the French government to publicly denounce the despicable statement and miserable actions of a company that is under partial French government ownership,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

President Reuven Rivlin said he found it “troubling” that “I haven’t yet heard condemnations by the French leadership of the comments by the Orange CEO, as I’ve heard from Britain.”

“I expect that their voices will be heard here in Israel, in Cairo, and in the entire world.”

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