France's Green Party brushed off criticism from the left last week and sent a delegation to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority for the first time ever. They're pro-Palestinian, not anti-Israel, they say.
After decades of fruitless contacts between Israel and the Palestinians, the Greens say France and Europe should intervene. "At the moment there's this terrible strategy of going nowhere," Jean-Vincent Place, president of the Greens in the Senate, told Haaretz. He said solving environmental problems and the regional water shortage would help end the conflict.
The Greens, part of Prime Minister Francois Hollande's coalition, were harshly criticized on the Internet for the four-day visit. The party has traditionally been a severe critic of Israel; its website includes statements such as "Israel's impunity must come to an end." So some of its friends were a bit perturbed.
"Would they have traveled to South Africa in 1990 when Nelson Mandela was rotting in solitary confinement? That's the fate of 6,000 Palestinians!" penned a writer on the Info-Palestine website, adding that the Greens' visit represented a "severe blow to the peace camp." Other left-wing groups demanded meetings with Palestinians beyond "the sortie to Ramallah."
Even newspapers such as Le Monde and L'Express devoted space to the trip. After all, France's Jewish community shuns the party, and about a year ago Greens met with Salah Hamouri, who did seven years in an Israeli prison after plotting to kill Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
"Until recently it was common to obey the unwritten orders of pro-Palestinian groups and not talk to the Israeli side, but I think that's totally illogical," Place said. "The Israeli left is also very pleased with our visit."
Francois de Rugy, president of the Greens in the National Assembly, added that "the moment we explained our viewpoint, everyone was happy to discuss all the issues without any taboos, on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides."
The delegation's itinerary included meetings with Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, MKs from the left and right, and Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And there was a visit to Ramallah and Bethlehem and a meeting with senior Palestinian officials.
"We're pro-Palestinian, not anti-Israeli," Place said. "That means we're in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, but we're also in favor of the survival of the State of Israel – we're in favor of two states."
So do they say the same thing to their voters in France?
"We say the same thing to everyone," de Rugy said. "In the French political debate there's a tendency to simplify the Israeli-Palestinian issue in order to speak to a certain audience in the electorate. But we aren't interested in importing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to France. What's certain is that the encounter with leading people – academics, politicians and advisers on both sides of the barrier – helped us understand the complexity of the issue."
The two-state principle guides the party in its policy on the region, but Israel has a greater responsibility, the Greens say.
"Israel is a success story, so it's the one that has to take the step toward the other side," said de Rugy, pointing to disparities in the two sides' economies and standards of living. "Of course there's a lot of tension regarding the side that succeeded, just as in Israel there's a lot of tension between the rich and the other social classes. Peace is also the only thing that can solve the internal social rift in Israel."
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