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France – Israel’s ally – November 19, 2013

President Francois Hollande landed in Israel yesterday for what would be the longest visit of this French president in a foreign country.  The visit could not happen at a more opportune time.  Just last week, negotiations between the western nations and Iran broke down when France refused to approve the concessions that the other western nations had agreed to.   While the US, under the leadership of President Barak Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were eager to sign an agreement with Iran, France became the responsible adult and vetoed the plan.

In Israel, France became an immediate hero.  For years now, Israeli news stories about France have centered on the anti-Semitism that has become so prevalent in that country.  But suddenly, France was a country that Israel could count on.  France was an important ally and friend.

In welcoming Presiden Hollande to Israel, both President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stressed the long-term relationship between Israel and France.  Harking back to the early days of Israel’s statehood, when Shimon Peres was personally involved in the budding relationship between the two countries, both leaders spoke of France’s willingness to ignore the embargo on Israel imposed by the US and many other countries in 1948 and for years later.  They talked of the French initiative to combat Muslim terrorism in Mali and Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria. 

Indeed, recent events in the Middle East have made strange bedfellows.  Israel’s uncompromising position on a nuclear Iran caused an unprecedented fissure in US-Israel relations last week when Kerry commented in Congress that Israel could not be trusted.  But cheering Israel on from the sidelines was none other than Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States, who feel at least as threatened as Israel by a nuclear Iran.

And all the while, negotiations are supposedly taking place between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under US auspices.  The US continues to badger Israel to make additional concessions even though it is clear that the Palestinians have no interest in making any concessions of their own.  In fact, Kerry’s threat to impose a deal would encourage the Palestinians to become even more intransigent in their negotiating position. 

This week’s visit by the French leadership will include their visit to Ramallah and discussions with Palestinian leadership.  France clearly supports Israeli concessions to the Palestinians but most commentators believe that President Hollande will refrain from raising that issue in any serious way with Israel in order to preserve the harmony of the visit and the solidarity between the two countries on the Iran issue.

Many have questioned France’s motivation in standing so firmly on the Iran issue.  Some have pointed to their desire to cement better relationships with the Gulf States, while others point to their own close brush with terrorism in Toulouse and in Mali.  Their strong stand against Assad in Syria is directly related to the axis of evil that connects Assad and Iran and poses a serious risk of unconventional warfare in the Middle East and beyond. 

All of these are actually good reasons for any country to take the stand that France has taken.  Why, then, have so few countries taken that stand? 

I believe that while most western countries, and especially the US, couch their foreign policy in terms of moral certainties, their actual policies reflect a combination of personal and national interests more than anything else.  One Israeli commentator noted that Kerry’s zeal to close agreements both on the Iranian front and on the Israel—Palestinian front is motivated by his personal interest in running for president in 2016, hopefully with a Nobel peace prize in his pocket. 

Saudi Arabia is threatened by Iran but supports Palestinian aspirations against Israel.  Saudi Arabia does not oppose Iran because they are the bad guys, but rather because they are a threat to that nation.  France has serious interests in Mali and has a national interest in preserving the government against Al Qaeda terrorists in that country.  But they are not similarly threatened by the possibility that Al Qaeda terrorists (or their Hamas partners) would take control of Judea and Samaria should Israel withdraw from those areas.

The US is quickly becoming independent of foreign oil so it can afford to alienate Saudi Arabia on the Iran issue.  And if the US believes that a nuclear Iran is inevitable, then reaching an agreement may well be motivated by personal rather than national interests.

So where does that leave Israel? 

For years, the two-state solution was touted by nearly all countries as the equitable solution to the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict.  But as the Middle East becomes more unstable than ever before, it is increasingly clear that a settlement on the Palestinian issue will do nothing to solve the other, far more serious problems in the region.  And perhaps that is the point.  It is time to gain perspective and realize that should Israel concede Judea and Samaria or any part of it, nothing positive would be achieved.  And a whole lot of negative would ensue.  Terrorism would increase. Al Qaeda and Hamas would gain a powerful foothold in Judea and Samaria.  Egypt would be threatened if the Muslim Brotherhood ally Hamas became more powerful.  And the stage would be set for all-out war between Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East with Israel at the center of the powder keg.

This is a crisis that needs to be cleverly managed, not solved.  Nobel peace prizes should be not be awarded for any activity in this area, because real peace is an unrealistic goal.  It may well be that pragmatism will be best served by preserving the status quo — and by strengthening Israel’s hold on Judea and Samaria.  It is the right thing to do.  It is the biblical thing to do.  And it is probably the wisest thing to do.

Shalom,

Sondra Baras
Director, Is

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