French Mideast Envoy Fired for Opposing Palestinian UN Bid

Valerie Hoffenberg says while she is in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state, she continues to believe that the only way to do achieve this is 'through bilateral negotiations.'

Valerie Hoffenberg, the outspoken French foreign ministry special envoy to the Middle East, was summarily sacked over the weekend - because, she claims, of her opposition to the expected Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood later this month.

"I don't think this is a coincidence," the envoy told Haaretz when asked about the timing of her sacking, which she was shocked to learn about from a Foreign Ministry announcement on Friday. A day earlier, during a visit to Israel, at a meeting with Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom, Hoffenberg said that while she did not know the official French position, she herself was "completely opposed to the unilateral declaration."

Valerie Hoffenberg
Yanai Yehiel

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She added that while she is in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state, she continues to believe that the only way to do achieve this is "through bilateral negotiations."

Hoffenberg, who is Jewish and a political ally of President Nicolas Sarkozy, has held several positions in his party and was made special envoy to the region in 2008. In that capacity she helped cultivate financial, educational and cultural ties between Israelis, Palestinians and residents of neighboring countries.

Hoffenberg says she intended to leave her position in any case this fall so as to run for parliament, but that she had hoped to step down in a more dignified manner. "I was surprised to hear of my firing in this manner," she admits. "The fact is that I am pushing the president on this question [of Palestinian declaration of statehood] and making a lot of noise. In France there are a lot of visions, and mine clearly does not sit well with everyone in the ministry or around the president. This is a game of power."

Hoffenberg added that she was "not critical of the president," and was still hoping to prevail in her efforts to convince him to "make a good choice and not vote for this declaration," even from outside government.

The foreign ministry did not comment on the sacking.

The Palestinians yesterday said they would not give in to American pressure to drop their bid for statehood at the United Nations, taking a tough position ahead of a meeting with a senior U.S.-delegation.

Two senior White House envoys, David Hale and Dennis Ross, arrived in the region yesterday for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials. The U.S. has been trying to persuade the Palestinians to drop their plan to ask the U.N. this month to approve their independence and instead resume peace talks with Israel.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said there was little the Americans could do to change the Palestinians' plans. "We are going to the United Nations, regardless of objections or pressure," he said.

Abbas is expected to meet with Hale today. Ross, who is viewed by the Palestinians as pro-Israel, was not scheduled to attend the meeting.