In a radical departure from years of Parisian critical rhetoric, the French ambassador to Israel, Gerard Araud, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he thought Israel "has tried to show the utmost restraint" in the course of the conflict with the Palestinians since 2000.
The ambassador even evinced a certain understanding of the deaths of Palestinians during the course of Israeli army activity. "It's unavoidable that in some operations...," he said, leaving that sentence uncompleted. "War is dirty, war is always dirty," he went on, and then added: "Occupation is never clean."
France has been at the forefront of repeated EU appeals to Israel to show greater restraint vis- -vis the Palestinians, and leading French politicians have frequently used far tougher language than employed by the EU.
French President Jacques Chirac, for instance, condemned Israel's killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in March as being contrary to international law. Two years ago, then-French foreign minister Hubert V drine said that no solution to the Middle East crisis could be found by "armored vehicles firing" at Yasser Arafat's Ramallah headquarters. V drine had earlier accused Israel of following a "deliberate" and "fatal" policy in seeking to weaken or eliminate the Palestinian Authority and protested the army's "harassment" of Arafat.
The Palestinian issue is "not the central problem" for Arab states, he said, most of whose regimes are "so fragile... They all have more pressing problems... being mostly obsessed with their own survival."