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The three main candidates in Sunday's French presidential election - Nicholas Sarkozy, Segolene Royal and Francois Bayrou - are all "well disposed [toward Israel] in their own ways," former Israeli ambassador to France Avi Pazner told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend.
While all three want to see France play an integral role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue, they differ on how that should be done.
The right-wing Sarkozy, who seems likely to receive a majority of the votes from the country's 600,000 member Jewish community, despite their tendency to vote for the Left, has said "the Israelis... must make the necessary concessions to permit the Palestinians to establish a viable state. And it must tell the Palestinians that the existence and the security of the State of Israel are not negotiable and that nothing can justify violence."
Socialist Royal is seen as inexperienced in Middle East affairs; she has proposed that France "take the initiative for an international conference to create a lasting peace."
Centrist Bayrou is viewed as the dark horse, but according to the polls, if he and Sarkozy come in on top in Sunday's vote, Bayrou would win the May 6 runoff.
Bayrou wants France to play a role similar to the one the US plays in the Middle East. [France is the] leading Mediterranean political power" and has "good relations with Israel and the Arab countries," he has said. "France can help in the search for peace agreements by maintaining a balanced attitude between the two sides."
All three candidates believe France's Middle East role should also extend to countries like Lebanon and Iran. "I want independence for Lebanon and I want to have a relationship of confidence with the various Arab governments," Sarkozy has said numerous times during the campaign.
The key to doing so, according to Pazner, is the UN. "France participates in UNIFIL" and is involved in the inquiry into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, he said. "Syria's relationship [with France] was spoiled by the [Hariri] assassination, who was a friend of [President Jacques] Chirac. The relationship with Lebanon is good, and it will remain [so]."
Sarkozy has been the most outspoken on France's role in the UN and on the Security Council itself, taking heat for suggesting that France should not have used its veto in the Council on Iraq, which has encouraged accusations that he is overly pro-Washington.
Sarkozy believes the Security Council is in need of change. "The world has changed, and the Security Council must represent all the regions of the world, notably southern countries," to avoid a North-South polarization, he said.
The three candidates agree on the Iranian nuclear issue.
Bayrou's line that an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities "would plunge the entire Middle East in chaos" and unite the Iranian nation around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is generally shared by the front-runners, but not by right-wing candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, who said the Iranian threat was not serious.
"The Anglo-Americans are trying to find, at any price, a pretext to attack Iran, to drag it into violence and push it into regression. I don't see on what basis one can forbid Iran to carry on this program while at the same time tolerating Israel, Pakistan and India doing the same thing," Le Pen recently told the English-language Monday Morning Lebanon newspaper.
"From what Le Pen says, he doesn't care if Iran gets the bomb," Pazner said.
It was Royal who first said a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, but she continues to oppose any unilateral initiatives against the Islamic Republic.
French-Arab relations underwent impressive change in both economic and strategic areas after the Yom Kippur War and the entailing oil crisis, leading to France's "weapons-for-oil" policy that has created the image of France being anti-Israel, said Pascal Boniface, director of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris.
"This is not so," says Pazner. "France does not have an anti-Israeli attitude, though we experience problems due to the lack of progress on the peace process."
Both Royal and Bayrou have said adequate education on the Holocaust was the key to addressing the growing anti-Semitism in France.
Sarkozy has taken the far more aggressive "educate, condemn and repress" approach.
Le Pen has said he would abolish laws that penalize people for making racist and anti-Semitic comments; he has been convicted for such offenses himself.
Le Pen's views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue will not help him garner the Jewish vote. "I believe I am the only French politician to denounce the gradual extermination of the Palestinians. I see Israel's construction of a wall of shame in the West Bank as a scandal. The Palestinian people has every right to reconquer its homeland and restore a state that respects the rights of all its citizens," Le Pen said recently.
"I don't understand why Hamas, which came to power by democratic means advocated by the West, should be marginalized or why the Palestinian people should be penalized for its democratic choice and dragged into a crushing economic and financial crisis that can only favor excesses and extremism. It is time the peoples of the Middle East were able to live in peace and prosperity, in mutual respect and tolerance," he said.
On Saturday night, the polls showed Sarkozy and Royal making it through to the next round.
AP contributed to this report.â€¢
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