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ADL Analysis: The French Elections

Posted: May 10, 2007

The election of Nicolas Sarkozy as President of France offers the best hope in decades for a balanced and reasonable French policy toward Israel.  In a way that French Presidents have rarely articulated, Sarkozy and his camp have paid far more than lip service to Israel's security needs.  He has defended "the right of Israel to protect itself against external aggression particularly when it takes the form of blind and cowardly acts of terrorism."  Others in his campaign have gone even further, suggesting that Israel's security needs must be the basis for any Palestinian state and that Israel's security fence was justified as a temporary measure to prevent terrorism.

This, together with Sarkozy's emphasis on strengthening relations with the United States, would suggest that new elements will enter the picture in French decision-making regarding the Middle East.

In addition, Sarkozy earned his reputation for his willingness to stand against anti-Semitism during his tenure as Minister of the Interior, though it should be noted that outgoing President Jacques Chirac, after being in a state of denial for two years while anti-Semitism was surging in France, did show significant leadership on the subject in recent years.

Tempering some of the optimism about where Sarkozy may go is the recognition of the deep interests and history of French relations with the Arab world, as well as the realities of the European Union.

On the other hand, with Sarkozy in power in France and Angela Merkel as Chancellor of Germany, the two most significant European countries are now led by people who are known for their pro-American and pro-Israel views.  How this will affect European policies toward Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran will be carefully watched.

Keeping all this in perspective, it must be noted that a pro-Israeli position is not an anti-Palestinian position.  Sarkozy, like President Bush, would undoubtedly work towards the creation of a Palestinian state, but one established only if Israel were to have security.  But after all, that is the policy of the state of Israel and is the only one that offers real hope for Israelis and Palestinians.
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