Sarkozy, France and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

On a related note to the previous post about the shifting U.S.-Israel relationship, there's been a lot discussion in France regarding the shift in France's posture in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy has been accused of essentially adopting a pro-Israeli position that reverses France's historic sympathy and advocacy for the Palestinian cause. I'd argue that that misses a lot of the context, and some of the finer points, of Sarkozy's shift.

To begin with, France's historic pro-Palestinian position is no longer as necessary as it once was, for the simple reason that it has become the Western consensus. When all of the West was essentially aligned with Israel, having a champion for the cause of Palestinian statehood was significant and instrumental. But now that the two-state solution, pronounced by former French President François Mitterand before the Israeli Knesset in 1982, is universally accepted, Mahmoud Abbas doesn't need any more Western support than he has. What he needs is, a) more pressure on Israel to make concessions, and b) some solution to the problem of Palestinian governance.

Without Sarkozy's shift, France would be in no position to pressure Israel, since it would be dismissed for its pro-Palestinian bias. Meanwhile, France has once again been active in moving the lines, in terms of Palestinian interlocutors, this time to include Hamas. As problematic as engaging Hamas is, there's really no solution to the question of Palestinian governance without it.

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