Neck-deep in his own problems – from the toxic international fallout from France’s expelling hundreds of Roma, to a campaign-finance scandal, to sky-high disapproval ratings – French President Nicolas Sarkozy discovered a brilliant recipe Monday for recapturing his mojo: initiate a Middle East summit in Paris.
That’s right, Sarkozy may have problems of his own galore, but there’s nothing that a little high-profile, headline-grabbing Middle East talk-fest, like the one US President Barack Obama hosted earlier in the month in Washington, can’t cure.
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If his appointment of a French special Middle East envoy last month to resuscitate the moribund Syrian- Israeli track didn’t do the trick, then maybe getting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a gilded hall in the Elysée will help bring Sarkozy back into the center of the Middle East action and act as a balm to so many of his other wounds.
That, at least, is what his invitation to Abbas, Netanyahu and Mubarak to come to Paris for a meeting at the end of October felt like on Monday.
Not so, the French president would say. Indeed, speaking alongside Abbas at a press conference Monday, Sarkozy called on the EU – not just France – to have a greater role in the diplomatic process.
“This isn’t about criticizing anybody. In fact I want to pay homage to the considerable efforts of President Obama to relaunch the peace process,” he said.
“But I observe that, 10 years after Camp David, we have made no progress and perhaps we’ve even gone backwards in terms of resuming dialogue.
You can see there’s a methodological problem,” he told reporters.
A methodological problem, indeed; one he would have everyone believe he can solve.
But wait: Having met this month in Washington, and then again in Sharm e-Sheikh and Jerusalem, do Netanyahu and Abbas really need Sarkozy as a host in order to sit down and talk? And with the US intensively involved in every aspect of trying to get the sides to remain at the negotiating table despite Sunday night’s expiration of the settlementconstruction moratorium, can the French president really offer something here that the US can’t?
Rather, Sarkozy wants this meeting not because his – or European – involvement is necessary for the success of the diplomatic process, but because Sarkozy needs it for Sarkozy: for his stature, his standing, his importance.
Just prior to the summit at the beginning of September in Washington, hosted by Obama and attended by Netanyahu, Abbas, Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner got bent out of shape because neither the French, nor the EU, were invited to the party.
He reportedly was equally miffed that an invitation wasn’t extend to him or the Europeans to join the summit at Sharm. He then wanted to lead a five-member delegation of European foreign ministers to Jerusalem and Ramallah that same week to show a European presence, but Israel gently rebuffed the advance.
The French, however, will not take no for an answer, and Sarkozy’s gesture Monday made that quite clear. He wants into the process, and will work to get into it in any way possible.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, are also keen on securing a bigger role for the Europeans and France at the negotiating table, if only to make sure that if the talks implode, the Europeans will see firsthand that it was Israel’s fault. The Palestinians want the Europeans there to give them a backwind.
Compare, for instance, the way Sarkozy called Monday for an extension of the settlement freeze, and the way Obama did it last week.
Standing by Abbas, who said that the moratorium should continue for another three to four months, Sarkozy said, “The settlements must stop.”
Obama, speaking last week at the UN, had essentially the same message, but couched it in terms less jarring.
“We believe that the moratorium should be extended,” he said. “We also believe that talks should press on until completed. Now is the time for the parties to help each other overcome this obstacle.”
According to one official in Jerusalem, what makes Sarkozy’s proposed summit so transparently self-serving is that it is a “stand-alone summit.”
Whereas the Washington summit was part of a bigger, months-long process,
and was the work of tireless efforts by the American administration,
the proposed summit in Paris is not linked to any particular process.
Sarkozy may present it as preparation for the Union for the
Mediterranean meeting scheduled for November, but that meeting –
postponed from the summer because the Arab leaders refused to sit down
with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman – is by no means a certainty.
Sarkozy’s proposed summit in October is about one thing – Sarkozy, and
how he can improve his badly sagging standing and image.