According to Israeli officials, time is running out for a diplomatic solution in southern Lebanon. For Hezbollah, “there will be no negotiations until the Gaza war is over.” How can this impossible equation be resolved?
We have to be quite clear about the situation: It’s dangerous. And I’ve said as much to all the people I’ve spoken to. Escalation is far from impossible today, and I have come with proposals to avoid it. Diplomatic discussions will take place in the next few days on our French proposals.
Is that the message you sent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
France is committed to the stability of Lebanon. I reaffirmed this several times to my Israeli counterparts. Lebanon, like France, is part of the peace camp. But France needs a Lebanese voice that can defend its country’s interests in the region.
[By voice], do you mean a president?
I reiterated to all my counterparts that Lebanon’s institutional gridlock has resulted in other states representing its interests. Lebanon must finalize its institutional framework by electing a president who can advocate for its interests in international forums. I believe this message resonated and was well received. It’s evident: Expediting the presidential election process is imperative, [and should not be] delayed.
Have the Israelis set a deadline for reaching an agreement?
First and foremost, we must consider the prevailing sentiment within Israeli society following the Oct. 7 events. France has consistently acknowledged and condemned the terrorist nature of these acts. The president paid homage to the 42 compatriots who lost their lives in these attacks. However, we remain steadfast in our principles, especially concerning the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. The prospect of ongoing operations at Rafah is particularly concerning in this regard.
Furthermore, I reiterated our stance that any forced displacement of people is unacceptable, and advocating for such actions publicly is reprehensible. Similarly, violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank must cease.
How would France react if Israel launched a large-scale operation in Lebanon?
At present, we have not reached that stage, and our diplomatic efforts are focused on preventing such a scenario. Our approach is clear: We aim to objectively characterize the positions of all parties involved and put forward proposals to facilitate the development of a diplomatic solution.
Are you expecting any stance from the Lebanese side to calm the situation?
We expect all those involved to act responsibly. They must refrain from fueling escalation in the region. We need to send signals of appeasement. If we want de-escalation, it is necessary.
What proposals are currently on the table? There is talk of revamping the quadripartite committee [France, United States, Lebanon and Israel] set up in 1996 to stabilize the border.
It’s too early to talk about this in detail in the press. France has made some very concrete proposals that I do not wish to discuss publicly, but which should enable everyone to assume their responsibilities.
On a more regional level, France has been calling for a ceasefire since mid-December. But Israel is continuing its military campaign as if nothing had happened. Is Paris throwing all its weight behind this objective?
I have cautioned Israeli authorities about the regional risks associated with intervention in Lebanon, but our outreach extends beyond that. France, with its balanced stance, possesses a platform to engage with all parties. In my discussions with my Iranian counterpart, held in New York in January, I emphasized that Iran must ensure the groups under its influence refrain from decisions that could destabilize the region.
Our position unequivocally defines the Oct. 7 attack as an act of terrorism. We affirm Israel’s right to defend itself against such threats, while emphasizing the paramount importance of upholding international law, which binds all parties. Urgent action is needed to secure a lasting ceasefire to address the dire humanitarian situation for civilians in Gaza.
We demand accountability from all involved parties, articulating France’s stance based on clear principles. When advocating for a ceasefire, it must be accompanied by immediate political dialogue to progress toward peace and a two-state solution. The issue of Palestinian sovereignty will inevitably emerge in these discussions.
During your regional tour, you said: “Gaza is Palestinian land” and that “the settlers must stop their attacks.” If the Israeli government does not respect these two points, what would be the consequences?
France’s friendship with Israel enables us to address difficult issues candidly. As I mentioned, we maintain a stance of accountability with all parties involved. This open dialogue serves to prevent further escalation and foster understanding among all stakeholders.
Is the use of sanctions a possibility?
Concerning violent Israeli extremist settlers, we are working at both national and European levels to ensure that individual sanctions are implemented rapidly.
Why does France not recognize the Palestinian state?
I’ve said so several times at press conferences. For the moment, it’s a subject that is raised in the context of political discussions. It’s not a taboo subject in France and hasn’t been for a long time. It is obviously on the table, among other options, but it is a tool that must be mobilized at the right time, in the service of peace. In other words, any recognition process must be part of a political process.
You stated before the National Assembly: “To accuse the Jewish State of genocide is to cross a moral threshold.” Since then, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has handed down its first ruling, calling on Israel to take all measures to prevent genocide in Gaza. Do you maintain your position? Does the Court’s decision have any impact on French policy on this issue?
I made this statement because the term “genocide” holds significant legal and historical weight, stemming from the aftermath of the Second World War, a pivotal moment that still resonates in Europe’s collective memory. Genocide entails a specific intentionality that must be proven in a court of law.
At present, the Court’s decision aligns precisely with France’s stance, advocating for the release of hostages, increased humanitarian access, adherence to international law and accountability for international crimes. These are the principles we uphold. Additionally, France emphasizes the imperative of halting the ongoing hostilities.
This article was originally published in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translated by Sahar Ghoussoub.