Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who came to Israel primarily to receive an honorary doctorate from Netanya Academic College had a breakfast meeting on Thursday morning with President Shimon Peres, whom he knows well and with whom he had enjoyed previous meetings in Jerusalem and Paris over the past decade, spoken on the phone, and exchanged correspondence.
If Sarkozy, instead of being driven into the grounds, had entered the presidential complex via the security entrance, as do most people, he would have seen among the enlarged photographs on the walls, one of himself with Peres taken when he and his wife Carla Bruni came on an official visit to Israel in June, 2008, following a state visit by Peres to France. In fact, Peres, who on Thursday lavished praise on Sarkozy, saying that the university had given him a doctorate, but the whole nation of Israel honored him, stated that his only complaint against Sarkozy was "that you came without Carla." Sarkozy explained that his wife, a professional singer, was busy with her new recording, and that she and their two year old daughter Giulia would accompany him on his next visit to Israel. "Then you will get not one Sarkozy but three," he said. When Peres went to Paris in March, 2008, he had called Sarkozy a breath of fresh air in French politics. Sarkozy had assured Peres at the time that France was and is a true friend of Israel and emphasized that Israel's right to exist was not a subject for debate.
Throughout his presidency, Sarkozy supported Israel on matters related to preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. He also supported the peace process and a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was staunchly engaged in fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of racial discrimination.
Only a month prior to losing the last French presidential elections, Sarkozy in a letter to Peres on the occasion of Israel's 64th Independence Day re-affirmed France's commitment to Israel's security and pledged to continue to vigorously oppose anti-Semitism.
It is for this reason that NAC decided to honor him for his contribution to the State of Israel and the Jewish People, noting in the citation his determination and courage in battling racism and anti-Semitism in Europe and the world.
Even though Sarkozy had announced after his defeat at the polls that he was leaving politics, his popularity has soared in recent months, and according to the French media, there are many French citizens calling for his return. He may yet run against present incumbent Francois Hollande in the 2017 elections.
When Peres entered the reception hall in which Sarkozy was waiting for him on Thursday, the two literally fell into each other's arms in a warm embrace before posing for the mandatory handshake photo.
Peres was obviously delighted to see him and said so. "Friends are friends," he declared, "and you are one of the greatest demonstrations of that truism." Peres spoke of Sarkozy's continuous sympathy and support for Israel, and said that his position on issues such as Iran and Libya had been clear. "People can agree or disagree with you, but they always know what you stand for."
Turning to the issue of the possible renewal of the peace process, Peres said that he was glad of the efforts being made in that direction by the United States and the European Union.
The agreed upon conclusion to negotiations was a two state solution and though differences between the parties remain, and are not easy to overcome Peres acknowledged, he believed that they were nonetheless bridgeable.
Alluding to a suggestion made by Sarkozy in 2007, when he had suggested a Middle East treaty similar to that of the European Union, Peres said that the Middle East is in a sense the youngest region in the world with an average age of 26, in addition to which 99 million Arabs are now on line, which indicates that the Middle East has a great potential for development.
"What is happening in the headlines is sad," said Peres, "but what is developing is encouraging."
Sarkozy was no less complimentary to Peres than his host had been to him, saying that every time he sees him, he detects no change – neither in his appearance, nor in his opinions. Sarkozy wanted to know the secret not only of the president's longevity, but also how he managed to stay young at such an advanced age.
Sarkozy commended Peres as a man who remains true to his beliefs and who is a great proponent for peace. "I am in complete accord with his thoughts," he said.
In referring to his honorary degree from NAC, Sarkozy spoke of the Holocaust, using the Hebrew word Shoah, and said that it was not a political issue, but a universal issue. He could not excuse the silence of the world while six million Jews were being murdered. For him, there two periods in contemporary history – pre Holocaust and post Holocaust. The State of Israel is a post Holocaust reality, but the Jewish people who waited so long for a state of their own, should understand the desires of the Palestinian people who want to have a state of their own as well, he said.
Then, slightly self conscious, he added: "I'm not involved in politics and I don't make speeches any more – except when I'm in Israel."
Following his meeting with Peres, Sarkozy also met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.