The day before the nomination of the French Prime Minister, Christophe Bigot, French Ambassador in Israel gave a lecture at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzlyiah about “The foreign policy of France in the Middle East: challenges and predictions”.
After drawing the history of French involvement in the Middle East from Napoleon to the UN mandate on Lebanon and Syria, Bigot focused on the current relationship between France and Israel, which are characterized by cooperation in several fields, including culture, which he considers to be the core of this relationship.
Naturally, Bigot’s speech soon turned to the main present issue: the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ and its heritage. France views at these revolutions with optimism, as they could bring to the establishment of democracies, although through a long process. In connection to the way these events could affect Israel, although the most popular perception is for the Arab revolution to represent a threat to Israel, according to Bigot these could turn into opportunities from which Israel can get some gains, especially in relation to peace.
As for the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, France shares the EU view of resuming talks and implementing the two-state solution as the only way to guarantee peace and security to the region. At the same time, the EU would like to play a more active role by joining the coalition of states involved in the negotiations, which should be enlarged to neighborhood states as Egypt and Jordan as well, as these countries can bring a remarkable contribution especially in the field of security guarantees.
Another hot topic of the Ambassador’s speech and the following debate was Iran. Vis-a-vis this theme France and Israel are strongly collaborating, as France believes that the Ayatollahs regime’s nuclear race poses a threat not only to Israel, but to Europe and to the non-proliferation regime and the world cannot tolerate it. For this reason, France as a member of the UN Security Council and of the EU, adopted unprecedented sanctions toward Iran as embargo and assets freezing. Mr. Bigot declared that these sanctions are already affecting the Iranian economy and the fact that Iran agreed to negotiate is a proof of this fact. Before his election, President Hollande declared: “we have to continue to be extremely firm on sanctions (already imposed on Iran), which in my view are the best way to prevent a military option that would have unforeseeable consequences.”
About the election of Francois Hollande to the Presidency of France, although it is soon for making predictions and little is known about the future of French foreign policy, the Ambassador remarked that during the last political campaign, foreign policy did not play a major role in the debate between the candidates, which was much more focused on the internal and especially economic issues. That being stated, Mr. Bigot believes that there will not be a major shift in the French foreign policy as this is driven by principles, history and interest that are not likely to change in time. As for the situation of French Jews, Mr. Bigot remarked that President Hollande has an history of good relationship with the French Jewish Community and that during the electoral campaign he committed to fight any form of Anti-semitism and of boycott towards Israel. Furthermore the new President stated that he will take initiatives to resume the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians in order to achieve peace and security.
Yet, as the Ambassador said, we can only make predictions based on pre-election declarations. We have to keep in mind that the French President has wide discretion on the shaping of foreign policy and that Hollande’s intentions will become clear as he will fully take office