(photo credit: AP)
While asserting that Israel's security is "nonnegotiable," French presidential front-runner Nicholas Sarkozy also says it must not prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state if peace is to be achieved.
"I do not see the incompatibility between the rights of Palestinians to create a viable state and the consideration of the security of the State of Israel as nonnegotiable," Sarkozy told The Jerusalem Post French edition over the weekend. "Only if Israel is guaranteed that its existence will not be threatened and the Palestinians are allowed to form a viable state can we achieve a durable and viable solution."
Sarkozy, the leader of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), will, according to the latest polls, become the next president after May 6's runoff with his Socialist opponent, Segolene Royal.
Both he and Royal have been directly appealing to their large Muslim and Jewish constituencies ahead of the Sunday showdown.
"I defend the right of Israel to protect itself against external aggression, particularly when it takes the form of blind and cowardly acts of terrorism," he declared. "But the measures taken must not condemn the search for a negotiated peace settlement. They must be appropriate and proportional."
Officials close to Sarkozy stressed that Israel's security is of utmost importance, preceding the establishment of a Palestinian state.
"When there are Kassams and Katyushas being fired into Israel, where is the problem in defending yourself?" one official said. "Israel cannot compromise its security, otherwise it will be the civilian population that will suffer."
The official argued that Israel's West Bank barrier, even when it cuts through Palestinian territory, falls under the jurisdiction of security. "When there is peace, the route will be reworked," he said. "For now, it is in disputed territory. First, let Israel and the Palestinians reach a peace agreement, and then, once there is a deliberate step toward peace by the Palestinians, the details can be worked out."
Back home, Sarkozy is seen by some as markedly too pro-Israeli for France, but he has nonetheless reiterated several times that Israel's security must be guaranteed so long as it does not encroach on the progress toward the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
"In the future, [Israel] will depend on the viable character of the Palestinian state, notably its continuity," Sarkozy said.
However, one Sarkozy official clarified, the future contiguity of a Palestinian state is not something that Israel will need to address in the near future.
"They [Palestinians] do not want a state at the moment. If they do become a state, they will have to borrow incredible amounts of money, and will not receive aid the way they do now. Right now, they're focused on destroying the State of Israel," he told the Post.
For her part, Royal's policy on the Middle East has sharpened since her first visit to the region in late 2006, despite her image of being inexperienced.
Royal, like Sarkozy, believes that the security of Israel is something that cannot be violated, according to her spokesman, Julien Dray.
"France is not flexible on this issue," Dray told the Post. "From the point of it's inception until it [Israel] can live in peace with its neighbors, its security has to be totally guaranteed. [But] its security can be better assured if the Palestinian people create a sovereign state."
Dray also said that the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit would be a precondition to ending any economic boycott of the PA government. "[Schalit's] freedom must allow for the reestablishment of aid, and the [allocation of] funds must be verified by the international community, that the Palestinian population are the ones who benefit from it."
As for the security threats that face Israel - such as Hizbullah, Syria and Iran - Sarkozy believes that they must be dealt with head-on.
Sarkozy has faith in UNIFIL, the United Nations force in Lebanon, and the UN Security Council resolution that ended last summer's war.
Sarkozy believes the force can be effective in stopping weapons smuggling across the Syrian border, as well as Hizbullah advances into southern Lebanon to avert another conflict with Israel.
"I can only support the enforcement of UN Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of Hizbullah," Sarkozy told the Post.
Royal spokesman Dray was quick to point out the deficiencies of the multinational force in Lebanon, but hinted that Royal supported a dialogue with Hizbullah.
"The UNIFIL mission has not been achieved to date, and the presence of France [in the force] must be maintained," he said. "Hizbullah is in a certain fashion a strong component of the political life in Lebanon. It is whether we want it or not unavoidable in a solution to the current crisis."
However, Dray added: "France will not allow Hizbullah to again pose a threat to Israel's security."
Regarding Iran, Sarkozy stressed that due to the unabashed hostility the Islamic Republic has demonstrated toward Israel, which includes numerous calls for Israel's destruction as well as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial, a nuclear capable Iran would be both "unacceptable and dangerous."
Sarkozy said he supported the efforts being made by the United Nations as well as individual states to curb the program, and hailed the signs of effectiveness the current medium is beginning to produce, and believes that is the most efficient way to deal with the rogue state.
"The important thing in this crisis is to maintain the firmness and the unity of the international community and its determination to contain the risks of proliferation... [This] will determine my actions if elected," he said.
Royal has reminded French voters as well as the international community that she was among the first to call for a hard-line stance on Iran, saying that its nuclear program must be halted.
"She has a good reason to say that the line between civilian and military nuclear capability is infamous, as long as Iran does not accept IAEA supervision," Dray said.
The full interview will appear in Friday's 'UpFront' magazine and is available in this week's 'Jerusalem Post French Edition'