Translated by Guillaume Durocher
French original here
Press conference of November 27, 1967, responding to a question on the Six Day War.
The establishment between the two world wars, because one has to go that far back, the establishment of a Zionist home [foyer sioniste] and then, after the Second World War, the establishment of a state of Israel, raised a certain number of apprehensions. One could ask, indeed, and many Jews did ask, whether the settlement of this community on lands which had been acquired in more-or-less justifiable conditions and amidst Arab peoples who were fundamentally hostile to them, would not lead to incessant, unending frictions and conflicts. Some even feared that the Jews, until then dispersed, who had remained what they had always been, an elite people, self-confident and dominating, would not come, once they were reassembled at the site of their former greatness, to change into an ardent and conquering ambition the very touching wishes they had expressed for 19 centuries: next year in Jerusalem!
However, despite the sometimes rising, sometimes receding flow of ill-will they provoked, that they aroused [suscitaient], to be precise, in certain countries and in certain periods, a considerable capital of interest and even of sympathy had accumulated in their favor, especially, it has to be said, in Christendom; a capital which came from the immense memory of the Testament, fed by all the sources of a magnificent liturgy, maintained by the commiseration which their ancient misfortune inspired and which among us was romanticized [poétisait] by the legend of the Wandering Jew, heightened by the abominable persecutions they had suffered during the Second World War, and swelled since finding a homeland [patrie] again, by their constructive works and the courage of their soldiers. It’s why, independently of the vast support in money, influence, and propaganda that the Israelis received from the Jewish circles of America and Europe, many countries, including France, watched with satisfaction the establishment of their state on a territory which the Powers had recognized for them, at the same time desiring that they manage, using a bit of modesty, to reach with their neighbors a peaceful modus vivendi.
One has to say that these psychological facts had changed somewhat since 1956, with the Franco-British Suez expedition we saw indeed the emergence a state of Israel which was warlike and determined to expand. Then, the action it undertook to double its population through the immigration of new elements, suggested that the territory it had acquired would not be sufficient for long and that to expand it would be led to seize any opportunity which would present itself. It’s why, incidentally, the Fifth Republic extricated itself vis-à-vis Israel of the special and very close ties which the previous regime had formed with this state, and had worked on the contrary to promote a détente in the Middle East. Of course, we conserved with the Israeli government cordial relations and, even, we provided it for its eventual defense the weapons it asked to buy. But, at the same time, we advised moderation, notably on the disputes concerning the waters of the Jordan or the recurring skirmishes between the forces of the two sides. Finally, we maintained our embassy at Tel Aviv, and we refused to give our official approval to its installation in a neighborhood of Jerusalem which they had seized.
Once the Algerian affair was over, we resumed with the Arab peoples of the Orient the same policy of friendship, of cooperation which had been for centuries that of France in this part of the world and which reason and sentiment make necessary that it must be today one of the fundamental bases of our foreign policy. Of course, we let the Arabs know that, for us, the State of Israel was a fait accompli and that we would not allow it to be destroyed. Thus one could imagine that a day would come when our country would be able to directly help in the conclusion and guarantee of a peace in the Orient, so long as no new tragedy would come to break it.
Alas! The tragedy came. It was prepared by a great and constant tension which resulted from the scandalous fate of the refugees in Jordan, and also of the threat of destruction directed against Israel. On May 22, the Aqaba affair, unfortunately created by Egypt, would offer a pretext to those who dreamed of coming to blows. To avoid the hostilities, France had, as early as May 24, proposed to the other three great powers to forbid, jointly, each of the two parties from initiating combat. On June 2, the French government officially declared it could, potentially, side against [donnerait tort] whoever initiated first the action of weapons, and it is what I myself, on May 24 last, declared to Mister Eban, Foreign Minister of Israel, who I saw in Paris. “If Israel is attacked,” I told him in substance, “we would not let it be destroyed, but if you attack, we will condemn your initiative. Of course, despite the numerical inferiority of your population, given that you are much better organized, much more united, much better armed than the Arabs, I do not doubt that if need be, you would achieve military successes, but then, you would find yourself engaged on the ground and from the international point view in growing difficulties, especially as a war in the Orient could only increase in the world a deplorable tension and have very unfortunate consequences for many countries, so much so that it would be you, having become conquerors, who would be little by little blamed for the problems.”
We know that the voice of France was not heard. Israel, having attacked, has reached, in six days of fighting, the objectives it wanted to achieve. Now, it organizes on the territories which it has seized the occupation which cannot exist without oppression, repression, and expulsions, and a resistance to it is manifesting itself, which in turn it qualifies as terrorism. It is true that the two belligerents are respecting, for now, more-or-less precariously and irregularly, the ceasefire prescribed by the United Nations, but it is quite obvious that the conflict is only suspended and that there can be no solution except by the international route.
A settlement by this way, unless the United Nations were to itself tear up its own charter, must have as a basis the withdrawal from the territories that have been taken by force, the end of all belligerence, and the mutual recognition by each of the states in question by all the others. After which, by decisions of the United Nations, in presence and under the guarantee of their forces, it would probably be possible to determine the exact demarcation of their borders, the living conditions and security of both sides, the fate of the refugees and minorities, and the conditions of free navigation for all, notably in the Gulf of Aqaba and the Suez Canal. In France’s view, in this eventuality, Jerusalem would need to be granted an international status. For such a settlement to be implemented, there would need to be the agreement of the great powers (which would lead ipso facto to that of the United Nations) and, if such an agreement were to see the light of day, France is already ready to lend its political, economic and military support on the ground, so that this agreement is effectively applied. But one cannot see how any agreement could be born, not fictitiously through some empty formula, but effectively through common action, so long as one of the four greats is not extricated from the odious war it is leading elsewhere. Because everything holds together in the world of today. Without the tragedy of Vietnam, the conflict between Israel and the Arabs would not have become what it is and if, tomorrow, Southeast Asia were to see the rebirth of peace, the Middle East would soon reach it again with the general détente which would follow such an event.