JERUSALEM — Jacques Chirac, the first French premier to visit Israel, called Sunday for Palestinian self-determination and an international Middle East peace conference.
"How can other peoples and more specifically the Palestinian people avail themselves of the right to self-determination, that imprescriptible right that the Jewish people were among the very first to champion?" Chirac said in a speech.
"Israel's right to existence and to security must be unambiguously guaranteed. But the Palestinian people's right to determine and ensure their future must equally be recognized and carried out," he said.
Chirac did not mention the Palestine Liberation Organization, although he told a Jewish magazine before leaving Paris that the PLO was a reality Israel could not ignore.
Israel rejects the notion of Palestinian self-determination and proposes instead to negotiate limited self-government for the 1.4 million residents of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in association with Jordan.
The conservative Gaullist leader urged Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to reconsider his rejection of a U.N.-sponsored Mideast peace conference, on which the Israeli government is divided.
"Why not let pragmatism take its due and continue to support the trend towards direct dialogue between peoples without neglecting that added asset (which) the presence of the five permanent members of the Security Council can constitute?" he said.
Such a conference would not have powers of arbitration, but the five council members could guarantee a peace settlement.
Attempts by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, leader of the Labor Alignment, to promote a peace conference have been blocked by Shamir's right-wing Likud Bloc, which shares power in a national unity government.
Chirac, a presidential hopeful with longstanding ties to Arab states, earlier held private talks with Shamir at the start of a three-day visit high on ceremony.