Why is France’s Macron visiting Israel?

The president’s visit comes as the death toll from Israeli air raids in Gaza has risen above 5,000.

French President Emmanuel Macron, center, meets with Israeli-French nationals during his visit to Israel.
Soon after he landed, Macron visited Israeli-French nationals whose family members have died in the violence. He also met with the families of captives [Christophe Ena/Pool via Reuters]

French President Emmanuel Macron is the latest Western leader to visit Israel. Here is what you need to know about his trip:

What time and where did he arrive?

Macron landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport at 04:30 GMT on Tuesday.

Macron’s visit comes more than two weeks after Hamas fighters stormed into Israel, killing at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians, including about 30 French citizens.

What is the purpose of his visit?

Macron is coming with a four-point plan, reported Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher from occupied East Jerusalem.

“He wants to prevent an escalation, he wants to free the remaining captives in Gaza, he wants a guarantee of security for Israel and also wants to work towards a two-state solution,” Fisher said, adding that that Macron is going to Ramallah.

He was due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express France’s “full solidarity” with Israel, the French presidency said. This is in the wake of the recent violence following the Hamas attack of October 7.

Additionally, Macron is expected to address the “preservation of the civilian population” in Gaza, amid Israel’s relentless bombardment, and as it prepares for a ground invasion of the Palestinian enclave.

Macron will call for a “humanitarian truce” to allow desperately needed aid into Gaza, whose 2.3 million people have been largely deprived of water, food, electricity and other basic supplies after an Israeli blockade, the Elysee Palace said.

Macron will propose relaunching a “true peace process”, with the aim of creating a viable Palestinian state in exchange for guarantees from regional powers towards “Israel’s security”.

Who else will he meet with during his visit?

Soon after he landed, Macron visited Israeli-French nationals whose family members have died in the violence. He also met with the families of captives.

Macron is scheduled to meet with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at 06:20 GMT.

He plans to also meet opposition leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid in Jerusalem before holding a joint press conference with Netanyahu at 10:00 GMT.

There will also probably be exchanges with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and leaders of Gulf nations, the Elysee said.

What is France’s position so far on this conflict?

France has favoured a two-state solution and the country advocates for “Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, within secure, internationally recognized borders,” as stated by a delegate in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2012.

It also believes that Jerusalem should be the capital of both states, according to the France Diplomacy website.

French author and expert in the Israel-Palestine conflict, Alain Gresh told Al Jazeera that France condemned Israeli aggression in 1967 and continued with this policy while recognising the state of Palestine. France, at the time, took the initiative on this issue among countries in Europe and its efforts culminated in the Venice Declaration, which called for negotiation with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). This was when the United States still considered the PLO a “terrorist” organisation.

However, in recent years, while France claims that its position hasn’t changed, “its stance has indeed changed, as it is now developing bilateral relationships with Israel, as if Palestine doesn’t exist,” said Gresh.

The French government has increasingly opposed the Palestinian cause, even trying to criminalise the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, Gresh added.

What is France’s relationship with Israel/Palestine?

France recognised Israel and established diplomatic ties in 1949, only a year after its establishment. France supports Israel and its sovereignty, according to the France Diplomacy website.

After the Hamas attack, Macron expressed Paris’s full support for Israel’s right to defend itself as the Eiffel Tower was lit up in the colours of the Israeli flag.

In 1982, former French President Francois Mitterrand expressed the goal of creating a Palestinian state before the Israeli parliament. France raised the status of the General Delegation of Palestine in France to the Mission of Palestine in 2010. France voted in favour of Palestine becoming a non-member observer state of the United Nations in 2012.

Why are people protesting in France?

Thousands of people demonstrated on Sunday in the Place de la Republique in a pro-Palestine protest as the death toll from Israeli air raids in Gaza rose to nearly 5,100.

This was the first protest authorised by the French police among the recent pro-Palestinian protests in different French cities.

During previous pro-Palestine protests, the French police cracked down on protesters, using tear gas and water cannon to disperse them. This was after Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin ordered a ban on all pro-Palestine demonstrations in the name of “public order”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies