Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meets French President Jacques Chirac today for the first time in four years.
It is Sharon’s latest visit to a western capital in a bid to seek support for his policy of territorial disengagement from the Palestinians, by dismantling Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. It is also a bid to relaunch relations with a often prickly ally. Ties were strained last year when Sharon said France was “rabidly antisemitic” and invited Jews living there to emigrate to Israel immediately. France has the third largest Jewish community in the world, after Israel and the USA. It also has Western Europe’s largest Muslim community and, after a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in recent years, has cracked down on such crimes, with some success this year. Sharon’s visit is not being welcomed by some. “I am very sad for France that it should be welcoming a war criminal like Sharon,” said one protester. “His record is well-known and very extensive. You have got to remember what he has done over the past few years, especially in Palestine.” Sharon will be hoping France’s deep ties with the Arab world can lead to pressure on the Palestinian leadership to do more to control militants threatening the fragile five-month Middle East ceasefire.