Members of the Israel-France Parliamentary Friendship Group met at the Knesset on Tuesday with their French counterparts to discuss, among other things, ways to expand their cooperation. The Israel-France Friendship Group, headed by MK Elie Elalouf (Kulanu) recently visited Paris and held a series of meetings at the French Parliament.

The France-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group is headed by MP Pascal Popelin and also includes MPs Jacques Alain Benisti (Republican Party), Jean-Luc Bleunven (Socialist Party), Marie-Arlette Carlotti (Socialist Party), Christophe Cavard (EELV) and Guy Teissier (Republican Party).

In addition to Elalouf, the meeting was attended by Knesset Members Amir Ohana (Likud), Sharren Haskel (Likud), Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid), Revital Swid (Zionist Camp), Nachman Shai (Zionist Camp), Ayman Odeh (Joint List), senior political advisor to the Knesset Oded Ben-Hur and French Ambassador to Israel Patrick Maisonnave.

MK Elalouf opened the meeting by saying that, as a Moroccan Jew, he is excited to host the French delegation. ”The relations between Israel and France go beyond the daily political ties,” he said. ”France has always stood by Israel since its inception. France was the first country to host Holocaust survivors, who passed through Marseille en route to Israel.”

Elalouf also addressed the military aid France has given Israel over the years. ”We owe France a lot. Israelis love France and visit it frequently. We would like the relations between the governments to be better,” he added.

Members of the Israel-France Parliamentary Friendship Group meet with French counterparts; MK Elalouf, chairman: ”Israel-France relations go beyond daily political ties”

French MP Popelin noted that the visit was important ”in order to see how the only democracy in the region operates.” Addressing the French initiative to convene an international peace conference, he said it is ”not meant to define a `roadmap` for the Israelis and Palestinians, but bring about the resumption of negotiations.”

MK Shai said his party is of the opinion that the European Union, and particularly France, can play a key role in the ”reconciliation process” between Israel and the Palestinians. ”Even out of terror, we are seeking an agreement with the Palestinians, and there is no better solution than two states for two peoples,” he told the French lawmakers. ”If the French initiative will lead to the resumption of negotiations, it would be a great achievement, and the majority of Israelis would welcome it.”

MK Ohana said ”We all appreciate France`s desire to bring peace to the region. When looking at the map of Israel and at what is going on around us, one understands just how much we need peace, but there are disagreements over the manner in which this peace should be achieved.” Ohana thanked the members of the France-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group, and particularly Popelin, for their efforts to combat the BDS movement.

MK Elharrar said tightening the relations between the two friendship groups may also improve the relations between Israel and France. She called to increase cooperation on issues related to welfare and health, with an emphasis on promoting the rights of disabled individuals.

The French delegation also met with MK Yaakov Perry (Yesh Atid), who said Israel must prioritize its security in light of the instability in the region. ”Israel has many good friends who understand our security constraints, and there are also those who are aware of our internal constraints,” he said. ”And with all our criticism of the European Union, Israel is the only non-European member of the Horizon 2020 program, and this brings in billions of euros for research, medicine and our scientific advancement, and we could not have done it without Europe.”

Later, the French MPs met with Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, who said members of the Israel-France Parliamentary Friendship Group returned from Paris ”full of enthusiasm and with the desire to strengthen the ties.” Edelstein noted that when MK Elalouf asked for his advice on the Friendship Group`s activity, ”I told him that it must be continuous and practical, and this is why I was pleased to learn that you have met a number of times, consecutively, because this gives you the opportunity to develop during these meetings a work plan of sorts.”

Members of the Israel-France Parliamentary Friendship Group meet with French counterparts; MK Elalouf, chairman: ”Israel-France relations go beyond daily political ties”

The Knesset Speaker said the groups should consider developing programs that could eventually include parliament members from the Middle East. ”It is no secret that France has historic and other ties with a number of countries in this region and in North Africa, and lately we made a certain breakthrough through cooperation on issues such as water sources, environmental protection and agriculture,” Edelstein stated.

”I believe in parliamentary diplomacy. When a prime minister holds such a meeting, he needs to show results in the form of an agreement. We, as parliament members, can develop programs and push in a certain direction, and we are not obliged to immediately sign a political agreement. Help us include other players.”