The weak alliance Op-ed: History of Israel-France ties teaches us that yesterday's allies may become today's rivals
By Shimon Shiffer
What is perceived here as a renewed "honeymoon," a return to the relations which prevailed between France and Israel in the mid 1960s, may disappoint those who raised the level of expectations to new heights.
We should take the one sentence in Hebrew that François Hollande combined into his speech at the Ben-Gurion Airport reception ceremony and put it in the right proportions, and then perhaps we won't be disappointed.
Let's start with the negotiations withIran. The French president, who promised to remain "Israel's friend forever," has no intention to stop playing by the rules.
France, regardless of Israel, has been demonstrating for several years now a firmer approach than the Americans on the demands from Iran in exchange for easing sanctions. We must remember that France possesses a nuclear weapon and sells nuclear reactors for energy production to many countries around the globe. Therefore, the French are fussy about the details of the negotiations and are overly suspicious towards the Iranians.
Hollande did promise that France would never allow Iran to possess a nuclear weapon. But in the meantime, on this issue, France is in line with the powers holding the negotiations. Hollande, a close friend of President Obama, will eventually support the deal the powers formulate with Iran, even if his representatives express a tough stance until the agreement is reached.
Assuming that the French represent Netanyahu in the negotiations is an illusion. The best the Israeli side can expect from France's approach has to do with an improvement in the conditions of the agreement, and nothing more. There is an agreement in the international community that Iran will be able to continue enriching uranium, that it will not be required to remove the centrifuges from its territory, and the interim agreement will only freeze the current situation.
Things could change
The significant Iranian concession has to do with accepting Tehran's readiness to allow strict supervision on all the sites the West is aware of. In addition, it will be made clear to Iran that any attempt on its part to deceive the powers will bring it back to the point it is in now and lead to an aggravation of the sanctions against it.
In his speech at the Knesset and during his visit to Ramallah, where he will lay a wreath of flowers on Yasser Arafat's grave, the French president is expected to declare his country's support for the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and for the definition of the settlements as illegitimate. This will not be music to the ears of Netanyahu and his senior ministers.
If the European Union reaches the conclusion that Israel is responsible for the failure to make progress in the talks with the Palestinians and will impose economic sanctions on Israel, this decision will be backed by France.
Indeed, Hollande has promised to remain our friend forever. But the complicated history of our relations with France teaches us one lesson: Things could change. Remember what de Gaulle said about Israel in November 1967: "An elite people, domineering and sure of themselves." Yesterday's allies became today's rivals.
When it comes to relations between countries, one must not be impressed by embraces and declarations of love.