Ex-French Envoy to U.S.: Israel Is Not an Apartheid State, but It Could Be in the West Bank

Gerard Araud tells Haaretz that he 'never said' and 'never thought' Israel is an apartheid state, pushing off backlash over remark he made in an interview to The Atlantic but warning against consequences of occupation

Palestinian schoolchildren cross through an Israeli checkpoint as they head to school, in Hebron, April 29, 2019.
Mussa Qawasma/Reuters

Following criticism of the former French ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud, for comparing Israel’s policies in the West Bank to apartheid, Araud told Haaretz that he was not referring to the situation within Israel today, but rather to a future danger in the West Bank. “I have never said, I have never thought, that Israel, where I have spent more than six years of my life and in which I maintain close contacts, is an apartheid state,” said Araud, who is currently visiting Israel.

The former diplomat, who served as France’s ambassador to Israel 15 years ago, is in the country for the first time in more than a decade. “I love this country and I am not stupid: Of course Israel is not an apartheid country,” he said, “But I think it would be a disservice to it to forget the long-term situation in the West Bank and its practical and psychological consequences on the two populations living there.״

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Last Monday the current French Ambassador to Israel, Helene Le Gal, was summoned for a harsh reprimand by the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director for Europe, Rodica Radian-Gordon, following the publication of an interview with Araud in The Atlantic, which included the apartheid comment. Unusually, the Foreign Ministry chose to protest Araud’s remarks officially, although they were not made by an active diplomat – Araud, who was serving as the French ambassador to Washington, retired the same day the article came out. Officials in the French Embassy in Israel said at the time that it was “very strange for Israel to reprimand a country because of a diplomat who had already retired from service.”

A senior official with knowledge of the affair told Haaretz that “The main reason that the incident was blown up so much is that a member of the French Parliament, Meyer Habib, drew the attention of officials in Israel to Araud’s remarks and also complained to the French. Without him, apparently, they would not have heard of it in Jerusalem.”

In the controversial farewell interview, Araud said in response to a question about U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan: “The problem is that the disproportion of power is such between the two sides that the strongest may conclude that they have no interest to make concessions. And also the fact that the status quo is extremely comfortable for Israel. 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 said in the interview that he was close to Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, and that to his understanding, the U.S. administration’s peace deal would be “very close to what the Israelis want.” He also said that Trump was “uniquely able to push the Israelis, because he is so popular in Israel.” When the interviewer said that “Trump hasn’t pushed the Israelis so far,” Araud responded, “Exactly, but if need be, he may do it. Once Trump told Macron, 'I have given everything to the Israelis; the Israelis will have to give me something.'" Araud added that “Kushner is going to pour money on the Palestinians,” and that the plan is 50 pages long and very detailed.

The former ambassador also told the Atlantic that Kushner’s approach to the peace plan was that of a real estate dealer: “He is totally dry. He’s extremely smart, but he has no guts. He doesn’t know the history. 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. 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.“