Mar'haba, President Chirac

Peace in the Middle East is a vital interest of the European Union

On October 24, 1996, Jacques Chirac, President of France, became the first world leader to address the elected Palestinian Legislative Council, amid unprecedented warmth and enthusiasm at both the popular and official levels. President Chirac visited the Palestinian territory as part of a tour of the Middle East, during which he also visited Syria, Israel, Egypt and Jordan. He arrived in the Palestinian territory by helicopter, which landed in Ramallah, and was received by President Yasser Arafat and a host of other Palestinian officials.

Following President Chirac's address to the Council, President Arafat accompanied him from Ramallah to Gaza via helicopter. In Gaza, the Palestinian president gave an official lunch in honor of the French president and his delegation. Later, President Chirac was decorated with a medal of honor of the Star of Palestine. Following that event, they visited the future site of the Gaza Seaport, where President Chirac laid the first cornerstone. The two leaders then attended a brief ceremony for the naming of "Charles De Gaulle Street" in Gaza, while French Foreign Minister DeCharette was visiting Al-Shati refugee camp. An official departure ceremony was held later in the day, after which President Chirac boarded a helicopter to El-Arish Airport in Egypt.

In his address to the Palestinian Legislative Council, President Chirac dealt with many important issues for the Palestinian people and the Middle East as a whole. He addressed the members of the Council, as elected representatives of the people holding an indivisible part of national Palestinian sovereignty and having essential responsibilities to the people and to history. The French President also spoke about the transitional period of the peace process and stressed that it must not be unduly prolonged. He said that new settlements must stop and the pulling down of houses, expulsions and construction and use of restricted roads must cease. President Chirac also stated that the unity of the Palestinian territory must be preserved and that freedom of movement within the West Bank and between the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be maintained.

President Chirac also spoke about Jerusalem as a city holy for the three monotheistic religions and said that a solution for Jerusalem could not be solely religious or solely national. He stated that freedom of access to all believers should be guaranteed and that any idea of sovereignty, from whatever quarter, must be fit into the framework of the negotiated compromise planned by the Oslo agreement, and that such compromise should take into account the aspirations and rights of all the parties concerned.

Directly addressing the Council, the President also said that "to consolidate and extend autonomy, to settle the question of refugees, to imagine the status of Jerusalem, to set up your state - these are many goals to be attained, so many problems to be solved, but their difficulty should not frighten us". He said that "the more difficult parts had already been done, namely the mutual recognition and agreement on the stages to be completed in order to reach peace".

President Chirac also dealt with the important issue of the role of the European Union (EU) in furthering the peace process, and he said that France will continue in the mobilization of the Union to secure a political role commensurate with its economic commitments so that it becomes a cosponsor of the peace process.

The Palestinian side has always welcomed a more effective role to be played by the EU with regard to the Middle East peace process. Like the Europeans themselves, the Palestinians do not see this role as competing with the role being played by the United States, but rather they view it as a complementary role based on Europe's proximity to the region and its interests in it. The same could be said about the Russian role in the peace process.

In the last few months, the EU, under the presidency of Italy and Ireland respectively, adopted two important declarations on the Middle East peace process, one on June 22, 1996, and the other on October 1, 1996. Both asserted that peace in the Middle East is a vital interest of the EU and that the Union is ready to play an active part in efforts to recommence the negotiations commensurate with its interests in the region and on the basis of its major contribution to the peace process thus far. During their meeting in Dublin, the EU Heads of State and Government sent a message to the President of the U.S., expressing their appreciation for the efforts of Washington on this issue and also indicating the readiness of the Union to continue its engagement in the process. The leaders stressed that they were convinced that only a common effort could ensure progress at this critical time.

On October 28, 1996, the EU named Ambassador Miguel Moratinos of Spain as the Special Envoy of the EU to the Middle East. Diplomats said that Mr. Moratinos would relinquish his present post as Ambassador of Spain to Israel to concentrate fully on his new mandate to observe the peace process, establish relations with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and to report on possible EU actions.