Monday, August 01, 2005

Franco-Israeli Détente?: Emmanuel Responds

On Thursday, in "Franco-Israeli Détente?", I wrote on Ariel Sharon's visit to Paris and took issue with the relatively optimistic prognosis for Franco-Israeli relations of one of the web's sharpest observers of French Middle East policy, Emmanuel of the French-language blog Politique arabe de la France. Emmanuel's response follows:

1) Both men (Chirac and Sharon) have of course a hidden agenda and are posturing for local consumption: I do not deny that. This is true for Chirac who gets a good grade from Sharon on his fight against anti-Semitism (on which he is, I believe, absolutely sincere). You are right, however, in saying that anti-Semitism in France is far from a settled matter. Sharon, for his part, also gets some political benefit at home by receiving such honors from one of the most pro-Arab heads of state in the world.

2) I do believe also that the détente has more profound reasons that are closely related to France's weakening and Chirac's low personal standing (both at home and in Europe where he is about to lose his foremost ally in the person of German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder). Sharon is keen on turning this weakness to his own benefit. True, France is still pro-Palestinian. What I am saying in my analysis is that its pro-Palestinianism cannot afford to be relentless any longer: France just cannot pay such a high price in terms of internal destabilization. Sharon's disengagement plan and Arafat's death have given France an opportunity to adopt a much needed more balanced stance on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Now France wants to capitalize on this new stance by taking on a more important role in the peace process. Never underestimate the passion that French leaders have regarding the place and rank of their country in the world: this is the most sensitive issue of all (in this sense, the French political class is overwhelmingly Gaullist).

You cannot blame France for not being totally aligned with Israel : even the US is not. But when things get more serious, at the time of the real bargaining, I am now convinced that France will be willing to compromise on its positions and will push the Palestinians to do so as well. This is, I believe, why Sharon is willing to give a weakened France a stronger role : it still has a lot of influence in the Arab world and Sharon wants this influence to work in his favor. Spending 3 days with the guy who gave arch-enemy Yasser Arafat the funeral of a head of State is worth it.