Israel looks forward to visit by France's Royal [pg. 9]

Socialist French presidential candidate Segolene Royal is scheduled to make her maiden visit to Israel on Sunday, and while Israeli officials said "political opportunism" is obviously involved in her trip, the bottom line is that it is "good for the Jews." "She is a leading candidate for France's presidency," a diplomatic source in Jerusalem said on Thursday. "She has never sounded off on Middle East issues, and this will give her an opportunity to do so and let us know where she stands. That's good for the Jews." In addition to Israel, Royal will also be visiting Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The official in Jerusalem said that Royal, except for a comment a few months back about the need to talk to Hamas, has systematically steered clear of any comments on the Middle East. Regarding criticism that Royal's trip was just a transparent attempt to raise her political profile in France by shaking hands with world leaders, the diplomatic source said that there was nothing wrong with that since "that is the game of politics." Royal, who has served in the past as environment and families minister and as president of the western French region of Poitou-Charentes, is leading in the French polls. The French presidential election is to be held next April and May. Royal's leading opponent, center-right Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, has criticized her for lacking foreign policy experience. Sarkozy, chairman of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), declared his candidacy on Wednesday. Israeli officials said they did not expect Sarkozy to follow Royal's lead and pay a visit to Israel, since he was here in December 2004 at the Herzliya Conference. In a very friendly speech at that conference, Sarkozy said, "You feel that France is unperturbed by your suffering, and that we don't feel compassion for your suffering. France has never and will never be lenient as far as Israel's security is concerned." Israeli officials have said over the last few weeks that Israel has already been playing a role in the French elections. According to these officials, the strident tone that Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has taken regarding Israel's over-flights in Lebanon was not divorced from her desire to grab headlines and raise her national profile. Alliot-Marie is also considering running for French president. Royal is scheduled to arrive on Sunday and stay through Monday. She is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Education Minister Yuli Tamir. She will also visit Yad Vashem. Israeli officials said it was good she was meeting female ministers, because that was not something she would have a chance to do in Lebanon, Jordan or the PA. While this will be Royal's first trip to Israel, French Socialist MP Julien Dray, one of her spokesmen and a close adviser, is Jewish with relatives living in Netanya.