The speech French President François Hollande delivered to the Knesset on Monday
shared many similarities and a few small but noteworthy differences with the one
his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, gave to the same body in June
Both spoke of deep, historic ties between the French and the Jews.
Both saluted the Jewish and Israeli contributions to the world. Both talked of
France’s contribution to Israel’s security, and both referenced the peaks and
valleys that have existed in the relationship.
Both also received
standing ovations at the end.
Sarkozy and Hollande both also discussed
“I want to say that Iran’s military nuclear program demands an
extremely firm response by the entire international community. Israel must know
it is not alone,” Sarkozy said five years ago.
“France is determined to
pursue with its partners a policy of increasingly tough sanctions until there is
a shift in position – if Tehran were to choose to comply with its international
obligations. But I will say this forcefully: an Iran with nuclear weapons is
unacceptable for my country!” Fast-forward five years and Hollande, now viewed
by Israel as the leader whose position on Iran is closest to its own, said,
“France will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons.”
“We have nothing
against Iran,” he said according to a simultaneous translation by a Knesset
interpreter of his remarks delivered in French.
“It is a land with a long
and glorious history, and it has the right for energy, including civilian
But we cannot accept, and will not accept them having the
possibility of getting nuclear weapons, because that would represent a threat to
Israel, other countries in the region, and also to the world.
saying here clearly that we will keep the sanctions as long as we are not sure
that Iran has unequivocally and irreversibly forfeited its nuclear weapons
program,” he said.
Hollande, in his speech – reflecting events that have
taken place in France – spoke about the scourge of terrorism and anti-Semitism,
issues Sarkozy did not tackle from the perspective of problems France needed to
While Sarkozy waxed hopefully about his Union for the Mediterranean
Project that he initiated with the hope of linking Israel, the Palestinian
Authority, Lebanon and Syria together with the other Mediterranean countries,
the only mention of Syria Hollande made had to do with Paris’s need to use the
threat of force to help persuade President Bashar Assad to dismantle his
chemical weapons arsenal.
Sarkozy’s project, obviously was swept away by
the Arab Spring.
But the most glaring differences in the speeches had to
do with they way they addressed the settlement issue – even though here, too,
there were some similarities.
Both men, as did US President Barack Obama
when he addressed Israel at the Jerusalem International Convention Center in
March, kept this issue for last – obviously ascribing to the speech writing
theory that you first win them over with honey, and only then serve up the
And even before getting to the “vinegar,” both French
presidents, the previous and the current, said they were speaking as friends,
and that friends had a duty to speak forthrightly and honestly to one another,
and that they were not here to lecture or preach, just give their
And their opinions on the settlements, in fact on the whole
diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians, were pretty similar: two
states for two peoples based on the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as a shared
“People must have the courage to say, and I say it, Without
wanting to offend any one, I say quite simply: There can’t be peace without a
complete and immediate stop to all settlements and activity,” Sarkozy
“A proposal exists, supported by many members of your Knesset, for
adopting an act which would encourage the West Bank settlers to leave in return
for compensation and relocation in Israel. I say one thing to you: Create the
conditions for the movement!” Compare this with Hollande’s comments on the
matter: “Regarding a Palestinian state, it will have to be built on a strong
base, and be sustainable. Therefore the settlements have to end because they do
not make it possible to build two states, they prevent building two
Furthermore, while Sarkozy devoted a good part of his speech to
the Palestinian issue, Hollande kept his comments on the matter short and tight:
perhaps a reflection that in the five years since his predecessor was here, this
issue has been subsumed by so many others.