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Israel, Syria, Turkey and France

Monday, Nov. 16, 2009

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, fresh off a visit to Paris where he met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, reportedly told an Israeli cabinet meetingthat he was prepared to hold peace talks with Syria, either directly orelse through an honest broker. Netanyahu ruled out Turkey for such arole, saying that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would notbe a "fair mediator."

Since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ruled out direct talkswith Israel in a meeting with Sarkozy two days after Netanyahu's Paris visit, that could mean aFrench role. But the French side stated it supported the Turkishmediation effort. So France might mediate between Israel and Turkey, sothat Turkey can mediate between Israel and Syria.

Got that?

Seriously, though, Sarkozy has been criticized for shifting the traditional French pro-Palestinian alignment towards a more Israel-friendly approach. But all of his moves since taking office, including the engagement with Assad, suggests he has put his eggs in the Syria basket. The two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict is by now both universally accepted and close to dead. In any event, the negotiations no longer benefit from France's support for the Palestinians, and France no longer has much to gain from investing too much in it.

Syria, on the other hand, is a doable deal, and France's contacts in all the major areas in play make Paris a good fit to help the process along.