Assessing Sarkozy’s and Hollande’s Knesset speeches

French president's speech on Monday shared many similarities, a few small but noteworthy differences with the one his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, gave to the same body in June 2008.

Hollande speech at Knesset (photo credit: REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)
Hollande speech at Knesset
(photo credit: REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)
The speech French President François Hollande delivered to the Knesset on Monday shared many similarities and a few small but noteworthy differences with the one his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, gave to the same body in June 2008.
Both spoke of deep, historic ties between the French and the Jews. Both saluted the Jewish and Israeli contributions to the world. Both talked of France’s contribution to Israel’s security, and both referenced the peaks and valleys that have existed in the relationship.
Both also received standing ovations at the end.
Sarkozy and Hollande both also discussed Iran.
“I want to say that Iran’s military nuclear program demands an extremely firm response by the entire international community. Israel must know it is not alone,” Sarkozy said five years ago.
“France is determined to pursue with its partners a policy of increasingly tough sanctions until there is a shift in position – if Tehran were to choose to comply with its international obligations. But I will say this forcefully: an Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable for my country!” Fast-forward five years and Hollande, now viewed by Israel as the leader whose position on Iran is closest to its own, said, “France will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons.”
“We have nothing against Iran,” he said according to a simultaneous translation by a Knesset interpreter of his remarks delivered in French.
“It is a land with a long and glorious history, and it has the right for energy, including civilian nuclear energy.
But we cannot accept, and will not accept them having the possibility of getting nuclear weapons, because that would represent a threat to Israel, other countries in the region, and also to the world.
“I am saying here clearly that we will keep the sanctions as long as we are not sure that Iran has unequivocally and irreversibly forfeited its nuclear weapons program,” he said.
Hollande, in his speech – reflecting events that have taken place in France – spoke about the scourge of terrorism and anti-Semitism, issues Sarkozy did not tackle from the perspective of problems France needed to face.
While Sarkozy waxed hopefully about his Union for the Mediterranean Project that he initiated with the hope of linking Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon and Syria together with the other Mediterranean countries, the only mention of Syria Hollande made had to do with Paris’s need to use the threat of force to help persuade President Bashar Assad to dismantle his chemical weapons arsenal.
Sarkozy’s project, obviously was swept away by the Arab Spring.
But the most glaring differences in the speeches had to do with they way they addressed the settlement issue – even though here, too, there were some similarities.
Both men, as did US President Barack Obama when he addressed Israel at the Jerusalem International Convention Center in March, kept this issue for last – obviously ascribing to the speech writing theory that you first win them over with honey, and only then serve up the vinegar.
And even before getting to the “vinegar,” both French presidents, the previous and the current, said they were speaking as friends, and that friends had a duty to speak forthrightly and honestly to one another, and that they were not here to lecture or preach, just give their opinions.
And their opinions on the settlements, in fact on the whole diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians, were pretty similar: two states for two peoples based on the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as a shared capital.
“People must have the courage to say, and I say it, Without wanting to offend any one, I say quite simply: There can’t be peace without a complete and immediate stop to all settlements and activity,” Sarkozy said.
“A proposal exists, supported by many members of your Knesset, for adopting an act which would encourage the West Bank settlers to leave in return for compensation and relocation in Israel. I say one thing to you: Create the conditions for the movement!” Compare this with Hollande’s comments on the matter: “Regarding a Palestinian state, it will have to be built on a strong base, and be sustainable. Therefore the settlements have to end because they do not make it possible to build two states, they prevent building two states.”
Furthermore, while Sarkozy devoted a good part of his speech to the Palestinian issue, Hollande kept his comments on the matter short and tight: perhaps a reflection that in the five years since his predecessor was here, this issue has been subsumed by so many others.