Chirac tour aims to win Middle East role

France's inveterate diplomatic traveller, President Jacques Chirac, sets out today on a week-long mission to try to ensure a place for France at the top table of Middle East diplomacy. It is his second trip to the region since he took office, and one of the longest foreign tours he has undertaken. It is also seen by French diplomats as one of the most difficult.

The complexities of the tour, which will take him from Syria to Egypt, via Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Leb-anon, were underlined less than 48 hours before he set off by an announcement that the foreign minister, Herve de Charette, would not be accompanying him on the Israeli leg of the journey. Israel had objected to plans for him to visit Orient House, the Palestinian representation, in East Jerusalem.

It is a policy agreed in the European Union that EU foreign ministers visiting Israeli officials in Jerusalem should also visit Orient House - signifying that they regard the question of jurisdiction in Jerusalem as open. This Israel does not accept. Mr Chirac will now be accompanied to Jerusalem by Herve Gaymard, the health minister, who will go to Orient House.

France also appears to have made some late modifications to its ambitions for Mr Chirac's tour, which was planned several months ago, as a highlight of his diary. Initially, it seems, there were hopes for some sort of diplomatic coup that could break the current Israeli-Palestinian stalemate. The French news agency, AFP, which receives separate, official, briefings on such matters, reported earlier this week, for instance, that France intended to "play a role in relaunching the peace-process, despite the reservations of the Americans and Israelis".

The following day, the formulation was that France intended to try to "support" the peace process. And by yesterday it seemed that any thoughts of influencing the peace process at all were being buried. In the pre- visit briefing, the Elysee spokesman said that Mr Chirac would go "not as mediator, but with a message of peace" - the inference being that it might not be reciprocated.

As if to underline this, the Israeli foreign minister, David Levy, was quoted in several French reports as saying "the participation of a third partner [in the peace process] can only complicate things". During a visit to Paris last month, he made no secret of his view that French policy favoured the Arabs.

Officials in France's Gaullist administration deny this. They do, however, believe France's historical ties with the Arab world give it an advantage in Middle Eastern diplomacy that has not been sufficiently exploited. They blame France's former president, Francois Mitterrand, for undermining this by leaning towards Israel.

Mr Chirac has tried hard to restore France's special position in the Arab world. He has personally visited Lebanon, Egypt and the Gulf, and recently dissociated France from the US bombing of Iraq. The public dispute with Israel over Mr de Charette's visit to Jerusalem will hardly harm him in Arab eyes.

But Mr Chirac has also tried to use this "special relationship" with the Arabs to establish a French role in the Middle East peace process. During the last but one Israeli-Arab crisis, Mr Chirac annoyed the Americans by dispatching Mr de Charette to track the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, around the Middle East, and was delighted when he returned with a place for France at the ensuing talks.

That achievement, however, was almost completely undone by the election of Benjamin Netanyahu in April, the subsequent stalling of the peace process and the restoration of the US monopoly on what remained of it.

One point Mr Chirac intends to make during his tour, is that Europe should have a seat at the diplomatic table, if only because it is footing 80 per cent of the bill for Palestinian aid. Mr Chirac's apparent belief that it is he that who should do the representing, however, may not go down well in London and Bonn, which both support the US role, or in Dublin, which holds the EU presidency. Irish officials said yesterday that Mr Chirac's trip was "purely bilateral". US officials were guarded, saying Mr Chirac's trip had been planned for a long time and that "everyone's suggestions" on the Middle East were "welcome".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
News
i100
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage: 'I don't know anybody in politics as poor as we are'
i100
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015