PARIS - French President Emmanuel Macron joined some 70 world leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Sunday to commemorate the centenary of the Armistice that brought World War I to an end, and to honor the millions of soldiers who died in the conflict.
It was at 11 A.M. on November 11, 1918, that the guns fell silent across the western front, heralding the end of a four-year conflict that claimed the lives of 10 million combatants and millions of civilians.
One hundred years later, Macron paid tribute to those soldiers and their families in an address delivered at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe, built by Emperor Napoleon in 1806, where an unknown soldier killed in the Great War is buried.
"The lesson of the Great War can not be that of resentment between peoples, nor should the past be forgotten," said Macron, sorrow etched on the faces of former French soldiers standing to attention around him during the ceremony.
"It is our deeply rooted obligation to think of the future, and to consider what is essential."
U.S. President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian leader Vladimir Putin are among the dozens of monarchs, heads of state and government due to attend the ceremony, before lunch with Macron at the Elysee Palace.
With world leaders looking on, Macron said the "ancient demons" that caused World War I and millions of deaths are growing stronger.
The French leader said: "Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. In saying 'Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,' you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: Its moral values."
Trump has proudly declared himself a nationalist. Macron has set himself up as Europe's foil to nationalist movements that rail against global approaches, like ones that have taken hold in Hungary and Poland among other countries.
On Sunday afternoon, Macron will host the inaugural Paris Peace Forum, which seeks to promote a multilateral approach to security and governance and ultimately avoid the errors that led to the outbreak of World War I. Netanyahu and Macron are slated to meet on Monday.
In recent weeks, Netanyahu's bureau unsuccessfully attempted to organize a meeting between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the event. According to reports from Russia, Putin declined to meet Netanyahu at the forum.
Netanyahu and Putin have yet to meet since the downing of a Russian spy plane by Syria in September, following an Israeli strike in the country. The two however have spoken on the telephone.
Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said earlier this week that the structure of the conference, the tight schedule and the absence of side rooms create conditions not conducive for side meeting between leaders.
French sources told Haaretz that the conference's schedule is indeed tight but that they "have no objection to, or influence over, leaders meeting."
Netanyahu contemplated cancelling his trip to Paris because of the limited possibility of private meetings between leaders at the conference, but ultimately decided to attend.
In a rare public display of emotion by the leaders of two world powers, Macron and Merkel held hands on Saturday during a poignant ceremony in the Compiegne Forest, north of Paris, where French and German delegations signed the Armistice that ended the war.
Testimonies written by soldiers on November 11, 1918, as the ceasefire took hold, will be read at Sunday’s event by high school students in French, English and German.
The conflict was one of the bloodiest in history, reshaping Europe’s politics and demographics. Peace, however, was short-lived and two decades later Nazi Germany invaded its neighbors.
Merkel said in a statement the forum showed that “today there is a will, and I say this on behalf of Germany with full conviction, to do everything to bring a more peaceful order to the world, even though we know we still have much work to do.”
Trump, who champions a nationalist ‘America first’ policy, will not attend the forum.
The U.S. leader has said he will also not hold a bilateral meeting with Putin in Paris. Trump and Putin are expected to have formal talks later this month when both attend a G-20 summit in Buenos Aires.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is probing alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and any possible collusion with Trump’s campaign.
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