Not a friend of Israel: Former French president Jacques Chirac dies at 86

Not a friend of Israel: Former French president Jacques Chirac dies at 86

Former French President Jacques Chirac, a major force in French politics who opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that overthrew Saddam Hussein and held a vigil at Arafat’s bedside, died in Paris on Thursday at the age of 86.

His son-in-law Frédéric Salat-Baroux said that Chirac died Thursday “peacefully, among his loved ones.” He did not give a cause of death, though Chirac had repeated health problems since leaving office in 2007.

A seasoned politician, Chirac’s career included two presidential terms from 1995-2007 and nearly two decades as mayor of Paris.

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Under his presidency, France entered into the single European currency and abolished compulsory military service. Chirac also cut the presidential term of office from seven to five years. Chirac also opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein.

Chirac controversial political activity has been despised by his own colleagues, praised in Africa and criticized in Europe, befriended by Arab leaders while loathed by American politicians.

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Chirac has nurtured warm relations with many Arab leaders and Muslim terrorists over the years. The late arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat used to call him “Dr. Chirac.”

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Jordan’s late King Hussein was a close friend. So was Rafik Hariri, the assassinated Lebanese prime minister, the late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, his son and successor dictator Bashar, as well as a deep friendship with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Chirac made frequent visits to Middle Eastern and Persian Gulf countries, traveling to Saudi Arabia five times as president – more often than he traveled to Washington.

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Chirac championed France’s “pro-Arab” policy, often at the expense of relations with Israel. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who harshly criticized anti-Semitism in France and urged French Jews to leave for Israel, was “persona non grata” in France early in his term.

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Chirac’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in December 1996 was marked by a diplomatic incident when he visited a church in Jerusalem’s Old City. Chirac loudly claimed that Israeli bodyguards were too brutal in pushing back a mob of Arabs seeking to greet the French leader, a grandstanding at the Jewish state’s expense.

The Second Intifada, planned and led by Arafat, broke out in September 2000. The following month, Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak met in Paris for a tense summit. Moments before the agreement to a cease-fire was about to materialize, Chirac called Arafat with the advice not to sign but to hold out for more concessions.

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The intifada was still raging in October 2004 when Arafat fell ill. Chirac sent a French government plane to fly him to Paris, to be treated in a military hospital. Amid maximum publicity, Chirac visited arch-terrorist Arafat’s bedside.