French Détente with Israel: A Troubled Embrace
The arrival of French President François Holland in Israel on Sunday afternoon is more than just a routine visit. It marks the end of an era in which the U.S. was thought to be Israel's best friend and guardian. With his tough stance against Iran's nuclear ambitions--by far the most serious threat to Israel's security--Hollande has surpassed a hapless Obama administration stuck in the pseudo-strategy of appeasement.
Hollande, greeted with a warm welcome by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, promised that he would never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Unlike President Barack Obama, Hollande seems to mean it. That is good news for Israel (and for the U.S., despite Obama's prevarications). Yet there is also a danger: France has often been Israel's worst critic on its relations with Arab states, and with the Palestinians.
That is unlikely to change, not only because of a reflexive sympathy for the Palestinian cause that is deeply entrenched in French officialdom, but because of electoral considerations brought about by the large influx of Muslims to France in recent decades. Indeed, one of the main causes of a sharp rise in antisemitism in France in recent years has been violent protest by immigrants against Israel, directed against Jewish targets.
The Obama administration's policy regarding the Palestinians is a radical departure from that of previous administration, but it is not significantly different from the French position. According to Secretary of State John Kerry (and his Teflon predecessor), all settlements are illegitimate, even neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Kerry added recently that if talks fail and Israel faces a "third intifada," that will basically be its own fault.
Obama seems to have triggered a race to the bottom in international relations with Israel--a race in which France happens to be the laggard, due perhaps to the fact that the Sunni Arab states with which it is seeking closer ties happen to be more worried (for now) about Iran and their own instability than the Palestinians. In future, closer ties with Israel may embolden the French to demand concessions on the Palestinian issue.
The international community's treatment with Israel is such a disgrace (with some exceptions, including Canada) that even an interpreter at the United Nations, caught on a hot mic last week, could not contain her incredulity. (Netanyahu offered her a job in case she loses her current one.) The fact that Israel must rely on France--often the western vanguard of its ill-treatment--shows just how poor a friend Obama has been.