Israel rebukes French envoy over colleague’s ‘apartheid’ accusation

Hélène Le Gal summoned to Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem over statement by Paris’s outgoing Washington ambassador; Gérard Araud says he was referring to the West Bank only

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

Helene Le Gal during a ceremony for new ambassadors at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, December 12, 2016. (Isaac Harari/FLASH90)
Helene Le Gal during a ceremony for new ambassadors at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, December 12, 2016. (Isaac Harari/FLASH90)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Monday summoned French Ambassador Hélène Le Gal in protest of statements by her colleague in Washington who accused Israel of practicing “apartheid.”

In an April 19 interview with The Atlantic magazine, France’s outgoing ambassador to the US, Gérard Araud, said Israel was “extremely comfortable” with the status quo “because they [can] have the cake and eat it. They have the West Bank, but at the same time they don’t have to make the painful decision about the Palestinians, really making them really, totally stateless or making them citizens of Israel.”

“They won’t make them citizens of Israel. So they will have to make it official, which is we know the situation, which is an apartheid. There will be officially an apartheid state. They are in fact already,” Araud claimed.

“We strongly protested these words,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said Tuesday. Le Gal was rebuked by Deputy Director-General Rodica Radian-Gordon, who heads of the ministry’s European department, he said.

“I was referring to the West Bank,” Araud, who served as France’s ambassador to Israel from 2003 to 2006, wrote on Tuesday in response to a tweet about Le Gal’s reprimand.

But Nahshon refused to accept that explanation, replying to Araud on Twitter that in the interview he was clearly alluding to Israel. “You know fully well that 90 percent of West Bank Palestinians are under PA [Palestinian Authority] rule. You know that the PA refuses systematically peace negotiations. Your statement was offensive and uncalled for,” the Israeli diplomat wrote.

Araud replied: “Sorry. It was in the context of the peace process. I am not ashamed of my opinion and I know very well the issue. Yes, the West Bank. No Israël.”

In his frank parting interview with magazine, Araud also discussed at some length his views on the US administration’s much-expected peace plan.

Engineered by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, the plan will be “very close to what the Israelis want,” and is 99 percent “doomed to fail,” he said.

“But 1 percent, you never forget the 1 percent. Trump is uniquely able to push the Israelis, because he is so popular in Israel,” he said.

Araud positioned himself as “very close” to Kushner, whom he described as “extremely smart, but he has no guts.” Araud has served as French ambassador to Washington since 2014 and recently retired.

Kushner, Araud claimed, “doesn’t know the history” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “and in a sense, it’s good — we are not here to say who is right, who is wrong; we are trying to find a way [toward a solution].”

“So in a sense, I like it, but at the same time he is so rational, and he is so pro-Israeli also, that he may neglect the point that if you offer the Palestinians the choice between surrendering and committing suicide, they may decide the latter. Somebody like Kushner doesn’t understand that,” he argued.

Gérard Araud in a 2011 press conference. (Wikimedia/Clergier, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Araud told the magazine that the White House was counting on three factors when it comes to the peace plan. The first is Trump’s popularity in Israel.

“Trump, he said, is more popular than [Benjamin] Netanyahu in Israel, so the Israelis trust him. That’s the first bet, Kushner told me. The second is that the Palestinians may consider it’s their last chance to get limited sovereignty. And the third element is Kushner is going to pour money on the Palestinians. Don’t forget, the Arabs are behind the Americans. The plan is 50 pages, we were told, very precise; we don’t know what is in the plan. But we’ll see,” he said.

Araud added that “the disproportion of power is such between the two sides that the strongest [Israel] may conclude that they have no interest to make concessions.”

The details of the Trump plan have been kept under wraps, but rumors of its content have swirled, particularly on social media.

Kushner recently said the plan will not be unveiled until June at the earliest. Kushner told some 100 foreign diplomats the plan will be rolled out after the new Israeli government is sworn in and following the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends June 5.

He urged them to keep an “open mind,” according to a source cited by Reuters.

Although little is known about the long-awaited plan, recent reports in the Washington Post and Guardian suggested it would not include full Palestinian statehood.

That is a likely deal-breaker for Palestinians, who were already refusing to cooperate with Trump’s Middle East team following the US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and moving of the US embassy there in May 2018.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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