Can Israel expand its sovereignty while France’s shrinks?

This attempt at French anti-Israel leadership comes at a low point in that country’s history.

French flag in France (photo credit: REUTERS)
French flag in France
(photo credit: REUTERS)
France has presented itself as the leader of those countries that want the European Union to punish Israel if it annexes part of the West Bank. Yet the meeting of EU foreign ministers on May 15 did not even reach agreement on a mild motion.
This attempt at French anti-Israel leadership comes at a low point in that country’s history. By May 17, France had more than 27,000 deaths from COVID-19, placing it among the worst-hit European nations.
Economic problems are sizable.
Already before the pandemic, France’s ratio of gross domestic product to debt was poor, at close to 100%. The EU tells its member states to strive for a ratio of around 60%, with a budget deficit not to exceed 3%. By mid-April, French ministers were forecasting a 9% deficit for 2020 and a GDP/debt ratio of 115%. This may well be optimistic.
President Emanuel Macron’s popularity is declining. Toward the end of April he was polling at 38%, although it increased at the onset of the pandemic.
For a long time the EU was steered by a German-French axis. For decades the Germans were willing to give France a larger role in the EU than it merited due to its political and economic weight.
Because of Germany’s atrocious wartime past, a lower-than-warranted profile suited the Germans.
During Angela Merkel’s lengthy chancellorship, which began in 2005, Germany became more dominant. This was even more the case because the previous socialist French President François Hollande (2012-2017) was a weak leader.
Now, a further decline in France’s status threatens. The German daily Die Welt wrote that France was terribly ill-prepared for the pandemic, which it paid for with many deaths. The newspaper added that France was far behind Germany economically.
Along with a huge loss of confidence the country’s political leadership, Die Welt also claimed that there had been a feeling in France that it occupied an intermediate position between the EU countries of Northern Europe and the economically problematic Southern Europe. After the corona crisis, it clearly belongs to the southern group.
There are other extreme anti-Israel member countries of the EU. Why would France want to be the leader of the anti-Israel-annexation camp? At this critical moment of national failure shouldn’t France look inward? Why take a leading role internationally among the inciters? A number of factors seem to come into play. French foreign policy is the domain of the country’s president. Yet a former assistant of French president Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012), told me that it was very difficult for his boss to keep the Foreign Office under control.
THE QUAI D’ORSAY – as that office is often called because of its location – behaves very independently. It has had a pro-Arab policy since the nineteenth century.
In 2008, David Pryce-Jones published Betrayal: France, the Arabs and the Jews. His research included documents from the archives of the French Foreign Ministry.
He concluded that France has done more damage in the Middle East than any other country.
While France has lost its empire, it still tries to keep up an image of grandeur far beyond its real political and economic importance. That also means looking down upon Israel.
A notorious diplomatic incident occurred in 2001 at a private dinner party hosted by Conrad Black, then the owner of TheDaily Telegraph, when thenFrench ambassador to the UK Daniel Bernard, called Israel a “shitty little country.” When Black’s wife, Barbara Amiel, published this, Bernard attempted to wiggle out of it. The scandal created no problems for him in France, as Bernard was appointed ambassador in Algeria, another important posting. He died there in 2004.
Gérard Araud was appointed as French ambassador to Israel in 2003. He had not yet presented his credentials when he said, “[Ariel] Sharon is a thug and Israel is paranoid.” This almost cost him his job. By using the expression “paranoid” for the Israeli prime minister, he demonstrated the French mix of politics and psychology even more clearly.
Perhaps this indicates one reason why France still wants to lead the anti-Israel-annexation camp. The psychological factor may play an important role. France isn’t totally sovereign on its own territory. There are a large number of “difficult to go” areas in which the French police have a hard time entering and leaving unscathed. It is a sign of total government impotence and incompetence that this situation has evolved.
Is it too far a psychological jump to think that on the one hand, while France has given up some sovereignty on its own territory, on the other hand, “shitty little Israel” wants to enlarge its sovereignty? That is mentally unbearable.
Why would France put an emphasis on international law if it cannot even fully apply its domestic laws? One cannot lay a country on the couch. Yet the thought merits stating.
The writer is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He received the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s International Leadership Award and the Canadian Institute’s for Jewish Research’s International Lion of Judah Award.