Exasperated by overbearing Israeli security during a tour of Jerusalem’s crowded Old City on Tuesday, French President Jacques Chirac threatened at one point to cut short his already contentious visit.
As security officers crowded around Chirac, repeatedly shoving Palestinians, reporters and his aides away, Chirac finally halted and angrily turned on the chief of the detail.
“I’m starting to have enough of this,” he began in French. Then, shifting to English, he yelled at the official: “What do you want, me to go back to my plane and go back to France? Is that what you want? Let them go. Let them go.”
Chirac was especially irritated because he had deliberately refused to be accompanied by any Israeli municipal official on the tour, to underscore France’s adherence to the rejection by the United Nations of Israel’s claim to sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.
But later in the day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly apologized to Chirac, and the French president declared the incident forgotten. “I want to say we are very sorry this happened,” Netanyahu said. “It was done for a good cause, to protect a friend.”
Netanyahu’s apology reflected the Israeli government’s attempts to avoid a confrontation with Chirac, whose actions and statements in support of the Arabs during his visit have upset many Israelis.
Monday, Chirac called on Israel to accept the creation of a Palestinian state, to return the Golan Heights to Syria and to withdraw from the Israeli buffer zone in southern Lebanon.