Analysis: No Bastille Day revolution in relations

The least Assad might have done is thank Olmert for rehabilitating him.

By THE JERUSALEM POST, PARIS
July 14, 2008 23:18
2 minute read.

The meeting launching the new Mediterranean Union ended Monday on a sunny Bastille Day, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad sitting a few seats away from one another watching the colorful parade of French troops pass by, without uttering a word or acknowledging each other's existence. Nevertheless, they were both very much on each other's mind. Assad, were he a mensch, should have had the decency to extend his long arm to Olmert, and - if nothing else - at least thank him. For were it not for Olmert's announcement two months ago that Israel and Syria were engaged in indirect talks, it is doubtful Assad would have been welcomed to Paris and back inside the family of nations to the extent that he was over this last sparkling Paris weekend. It was just three years ago that former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated, and then French president Jacques Chirac, a close friend of Hariri's, essentially cut Assad, and Syria, off. But that was then. True, the Hariri investigation continues to drag on, and there is a strong likelihood that Syria's top echelon will eventually be implicated, but in the meantime a new, hyperactive French president has been elected who wants to move on. France, with its special historical relationship with Lebanon, was interested in re-establishing contact with Damascus, which is still a dominant force in Lebanon. It just needed a graceful way to do it. Olmert provided the way. Once it became public knowledge that Israel was engaging the Syrians through indirect contact, then France could say - and did say - that what is good enough for Israel, is good enough for France. And so France and Europe's new detente with Damascus was born. Assad was undoubtedly the star of this summit. He garnered the most attention, appearing in numerous television and newspaper interviews, and every one of his actions was scrutinized. Some speakers even called him "courageous" for showing up along with the Israelis. And then, of course, there was the incessant speculation of whether he would or wouldn't talk, or shake hands with, or even look at Olmert. He did none of the above, living up to expectations. Just as Olmert provided a life raft for Assad, the Syrian president could have done the same for the embattled prime minister. Had Assad deigned to grant Olmert a few minutes' audience, it would have done wonders for the premier's morale. He would have gone down in the history books not only as a prime minister who now looks increasingly like he will be hounded out of office because of corruption charges, but as the first Israeli prime minister to meet with the Syrian president. True, that small gesture would not be enough to rescue Olmert from his political and legal woes. Nothing, at this point, appears able to do that. But it would, for just a moment, have focused the spotlight on Olmert the statesman, not Olmert the alleged double-dipper. But Assad, being Assad, would have none of it. Instead of a gesture, one of his advisers was quoted as saying that Olmert is too weak to deal with. This left Olmert in the festive, honored grandstand on the Champs-Elysees with little more than handshakes from leaders he regularly meets, and a prized view of the sun glittering off the silver helmets and raised sabers of the nattily dressed French troops.


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