'The Palestinian question won’t just go away': former French PM

Dominique de Villepin, former prime minister of France, spoke recently to BFM TV, a French news TV and radio network. Edited excerpts from a translation:

Gaza is being incessantly pounded by Israeli air force (Photo: Getty Images)
Gaza is being incessantly pounded by Israeli air force (Photo: Getty Images)

NH Digital

Dominique de Villepin, former prime minister of France, who famously opposed the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, was born in Morocco, spent his childhood in Venezuela and grew up in the US. Before the ‘shock and awe’ bombing campaign got underway on 20 March 2003, Villepin had addressed the UN Security Council (on 7 March 2003); he was, at the time, the foreign minister of France.

Many will also remember Villepin as the man who cracked down on radical Muslim clergy back home and mandated courses for them in the French language, secularism and moderate Islam. A poet, a writer, a career diplomat and a politician, Villepin spoke recently to BFM TV, a French news TV and radio network. Edited excerpts from a translation posted by @RnaudBertrand on social media platform X.


There is a risk of escalating militarism, as if we can solve with armies a problem as serious as the Palestinian question. The other trap is of Occidentalism: the assumption that the West, which for five centuries presided over world affairs, can continue to do so; that faced with what is currently happening in the Middle East, we must continue the fight for what might resemble a religious or civilisational war. That would be to isolate ourselves even more on the international stage.

There’s a third trap, of moralism: our double standards have been denounced everywhere in the world, in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, among places I’ve travelled to in recent weeks. The criticism is always the same: ‘look at how civilian populations are treated in Gaza; you denounce what happened in Ukraine, and you are very timid in the face of the tragedy unfolding in Gaza.’

We sanction Russia when it aggresses Ukraine, we sanction Russia when it doesn’t respect the resolutions of the United Nations, and it’s been 70 years that the resolutions of the United Nations have been voted in vain and Israel does not respect them.

Is the West guilty of hubris?

Westerners must open their eyes to the historical drama unfolding before us to find the answers.

What is the historical drama? We’re talking about the tragedy of 7 October first and foremost, right?

The way to respond is crucial. Are we going to kill the future by finding the wrong answers?

Artwork by: Siddhesh Gautam/ IG @bakeryprasad
Artwork by: Siddhesh Gautam/ IG @bakeryprasad

But who is killing whom?

Faced with the tragedy of history, one cannot do this ‘chain of causality’ analysis because if you do, you can’t escape it. The situation today is profoundly different. The Palestinian cause was a political and secular cause. Today we are faced with an Islamist cause, led by Hamas. Obviously, this kind of cause is absolute and allows no negotiation.

Zionism was also secular and political, championed by Theodor Herzl in the late 19th century. It has largely become messianic, Biblical today. This means that they too do not want to compromise, and everything that the far-right Israeli government does, continuing to encourage colonisation, obviously makes things worse, especially after October 7.

We are already facing a problem that seems profoundly insoluble. Add to this the hardening of states. Look at the statements of the King of Jordan—they are not the same as six months ago. Look at the statements of Erdogan in Turkey.

Precisely. These are very harsh statements...

Because the Palestinian issue hasn’t been addressed for a while and most of the youth today in Europe have never even heard of it, but for the Arab people, it remains the mother of all battles.

Yes, but whose fault is it?

I’m trained as a diplomat. ‘Whose fault’ is a question best addressed by historians and philosophers.

But you can’t remain neutral… it’s difficult, it’s complicated, isn’t it?

I am not neutral… we stand alone before history today. We are no longer in a position of strength, we are not able to manage on our own, as the world’s policemen.

A house destroyed in Israeli 
airstrikes in Khan Yunis, Gaza, on 31 Oct 2023. (Photo: Getty Images)
A house destroyed in Israeli airstrikes in Khan Yunis, Gaza, on 31 Oct 2023. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ahmad Hasaballah

So, what do we do?

Exactly, what should we do? This is why it is essential not to cut off anyone on the international stage.

Including the Russians?


Everyone? Should we ask the Russians for help?

I’m saying that if Russians can contribute by calming some factions in this region, then it will be a step in the right direction.

How can we respond to barbarism proportionally? It’s no longer army against army.

But listen, the civilian populations that are dying in Gaza, don’t they exist? Because horror was committed on one side, horror must be committed on the other?

Do we need to equate the two?

No, it’s you who are doing that. There is certainly a realistic objective to pursue, which is to eradicate the Hamas leaders who committed this horror. And not to confuse the Palestinians with Hamas, that’s a realistic goal. The second thing is a targeted response.

Let’s define realistic political objectives. And the third thing is a combined response. Because there is no effective use of force without a political strategy. We are not in 1973 or 1967.

There are things no army in the world knows how to do, which is to win in an asymmetrical battle against terrorists. The war on terror has never been won anywhere. Instead, it triggers extremely dramatic misdeeds, cycles and escalations… it’s not like you have a hammer that strikes a nail and the problem is solved.

Palestinian fighters take positions in a tunnel in Gaza. (photo: Getty Images)
Palestinian fighters take positions in a tunnel in Gaza. (photo: Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency

But when Emmanuel Macron talks about an international coalition…

Yes, and what was the response?


Exactly. We need a political perspective, and this is challenging because the two-state solution has been removed from the Israeli political and diplomatic programme. Israel needs to understand that people never forgot the Palestinian cause and the injustice done to the Palestinians has been a significant source of mobilisation.

The challenge is that there is no interlocutor today, neither on the Israeli side nor the Palestinian side.

It’s not for us to choose the leaders of Palestine.

Israeli policy in recent years did not necessarily want to cultivate a Palestinian leadership... many are in prison… Israel’s interest at the time, or so they thought, was to divide the Palestinians and ensure that the Palestinian question fades.

The Palestinian question will not fade—and so we must address it and find an answer. The use of force is a dead end. What Hamas did must not prevent us from moving forward politically and diplomatically; the law of retaliation is a never-ending cycle.

The ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ approach?

Yes. Israel has a right to self-defence, but this right cannot be indiscriminate vengeance. And there cannot be collective responsibility of the Palestinian people for the actions of Hamas, a terrorist minority... Diplomacy is about being able to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. And that’s the cunning of history: when you are at the bottom, something can happen that gives hope...

There are two options: it’s either war, war, war... or we try to move towards peace. And I’ll say it again: it’s in Israel’s interest to move towards peace.

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