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Sarkozy's Diplomacy by Delusion By: Nidra Poller
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, January 22, 2009

With Israel’s recent declaration of a unilateral ceasefire, Hamas has once again managed to salvage triumph from certain defeat. For this dubious achievement French president Nicolas Sarkozy deserves much of the blame. He hammered out the ceasefire agreement with Hosni Mubarak, publicly equated “violence” emanating from both sides, exerted international pressure to keep Israel from gaining a military victory, and turned a blind eye to an explosive increase in anti-Semitic violence in his own country.

No one was more surprised by Sarkozy’s role than Israel. Israeli authorities were convinced that they had prepared Operation Cast Lead not only militarily but diplomatically. Tzipi Livni came away from her New Year’s Day meeting with Sarkozy in confidence that he appreciated the Israeli position. “He understands our situation and shares our values,” Livni announced. This was only partially true. Nicolas Sarkozy did not to want Hamas to win, but neither did he want Israel to fight. He emerged determined to make sure they heeded his wishes, rather than their own interests.

President Sarkozy first began calling for a ceasefire within hours of Israel’s surprise raid against Hamas positions in Gaza. Abruptly ending his Christmas vacation in Brazil, and relying on groundwork by French Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner, Sarkozy deplored Israel’s “disproportionate” response. Like a school teacher telling a class of noisy pupils to stop their chatter, Sarkozy also demanded an immediate 48-hour humanitarian ceasefire, declaring, “Il faut que les armes se taisent.” (The guns must be silenced.)

Similarly, Bernard Kouchner – a founder of Doctors Without Borders and an avowed socialist – thought that he could convince fellow socialist Ehud Barak to accept a permanent ceasefire with all the demands of the international community: open borders into Gaza, medical assistance, tons of victuals, and peace talks that would recognize the diplomatic status of Hamas. The demands were reiterated on New Year’s Day, when Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made a quick trip to explain to French leaders that Israel was going to fight jusqu’au bout – to the very end.  

The French government’s bid to play peace broker in the Gaza war came at a politically inopportune moment. The rotating EU presidency had been technically transferred from Nicolas Sarkozy to Czech President Mirek Topolanek. Ignoring this fact, and taking advantage of the holiday lull, Sarkozy clung to power long enough to push incessantly for a ceasefire – and when Topolanek’s spokeswoman declared a few days later that Israel had a right to self-defense, outraged EU officials forced him to pretend the spokeswoman had misspoken. This left Sarkozy and Kouchner in the awkward position to advocate a ceasefire that protected Hamas, an Iranian proxy and vicious enemy of Mahmoud Abbas, the allegedly “moderate”peacemaker Sarkozy claims to adore.

Undaunted, on January 5 Nicolas Sarkozy went ahead with his Middle East peace junket, though Israel’s ground operation was already underway. This was, by French standards, an improvement: Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy’s predecessor, never would have met with Israeli officials showing the temerity to defend their citizens. At the same time, the French president declared that military action had run its course. He had decided that the time had come for diplomacy.

In this, Sarkozy was perfectly in step with the French media. One week into Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, French media outlets, both state-owned and independent, were locked into hysterical mode, feeding the flames of Jew-hatred with Hamas-produced images of bloody children and howling women; peddling dubious statistics; and collaborating in the cover up of the fact that many of the alleged “civilian” casualties were Hamas combatants. Sarkozy’s outrage over Israeli “brutality” was in tune with this coverage.

However, diplomacy had anything but a consensus in the Middle East. Hopes that Bashar al Assad would convince Hamas to change course and follow the EU path to peace were short lived. In a brief statement after their cordial meeting, Assad studiously ignored Sarkozy’s condemnation of Hamas’s “irresponsible, inexcusable” terrorism, and instead denounced mythical Israeli war crimes. Two days later, a huge anti-Israel demonstration was held in Damascus.

Not one to come home empty-handed, Sarkozy made a last-minute decision to return to Egypt after visiting French UNIFIL troops. Sarkozy reemerged on January 6 with a ceasefire proposal he drafted with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, a mix of frivolous measures that Sarkozy presented as the all-encompassing answer to Middle Eastern violence.

The history of Israeli peace negotiations proves Israel has no reason to trust promises made during peace negotiations. How could Israelis trust guarantees against renewed smuggling at the border? After all, the rockets fired at Israel had been brought into Gaza while Egypt was “guarding” the Philadelphia corridor. Who could trust European observers when they had run away after the Hamas putsch in 2007? Why would Tel Aviv accept another ceasefire two years after it fell for that ploy, which diverted the IDF from smashing Hezbollah? To clarify the matter, Hamas leaders boomed that they would accept no ceasefire, but would fight to the end.

Arabs were not merely targeting Jews in the Middle East; anti-Semitic violence saw a sharp uptick in France at the same time. An official policy of “zero-tolerance” has had little effect on virulent street protests, nor has it prevented the firebombing of synagogues and the skyrocketing attacks against Jews. Another angry mob recently gathered outside a synagogue during services. A Jewish detainee at the Fleury-Merogis prison in the Parisian banlieue was beaten by Muslim co-detainees. An Israeli in the same prison, awaiting extradition to the U.S., is held in solitary confinement, because the administration fears he will be killed. Twenty four year-old Jonathan Ghez was accosted by two Muslims who wanted to steal his car; but when they saw he was wearing a Kabbalistic pendant with Hebrew writing, one of the assailants slashed his neck with a butcher knife, narrowly missing the jugular, then kicked him senseless and ran. One can hardly expect swift justice: three years after Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew, was tortured to death, the perpetrators are still in prison awaiting trial.  

After this violence broke out, Sarkozy implied both Jews and Muslims were equally at fault. In a New Year’s speech to the forces of law and order on January 14, Sarkozy denounced “communitarian” violence and promised that the République would stand in the way of anyone who sought to “import” the Mideast conflict and foment “inter-communitarian” strife. The conflict in Gaza is dramatic, said the president, and it must not be played out in France. “Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia will be punished with equal severity,” Sarkozy declared. The implication was that French Jews and Muslims were attacking each other. On the contrary, while France has witnessed some 60 anti-Jewish incidents since the Gaza conflict, there has been only one credible attack on a Muslim - and it was probably perpetrated by Muslims. The victim was the imam of Drancy, who had called on Muslims to stop participating in hateful street protests, a strong advocate of friendly relations with Jews.

What does President Sarkozy intend to do about the troubling domestic situation? If the redistribution of guilt was meant to placate local Muslims, it failed.

There is no need to question Nicolas Sarkozy’s sincerity or decency. He takes pride in his capacity to act quickly and vigorously in situations of crisis. Nor do other global leaders – be they Gordon Brown or Barack Obama – desire Israel’s destruction. But what they propose is perilous. While claiming to be committed to Israel’s security, they have allowed the forces of Islamic jihad to survive once again. Israel, reined in once more by the premature negotiators, has still been able to show us the beginnings of a new art of war, appropriate to our times and suited to our enemies. That, and not the deluded diplomacy of European leaders, is the light that the free world will have to follow.

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