French attitude

It seems that France does not have enough issues to deal with on the domestic side. France is currently undergoing high unemployment, social unrest, a migrant crisis, lack of security, and right now refinery strikes with gas stations forced to close. Six months after one of the worst terrorist attacks in the history of Western Europe, and under constant threat from ISIS, France is still pushing forward with its so called new Peace Initiative for Israel and the Palestinians. ISIS has reportedly said only a few days ago that France is their target number one in the western world. The date for the new conference has been set for June 3rd and John Kerry has confirmed that he will attend.  Apparently 20 countries will be represented, all except for Israel and the Palestinian Authority who were not invited. Supposedly there will be another summit later in the year where the (only) two parties concerned will actually be asked to join.

The reason advocated by France to go ahead with this plan is the need to restart the peace process in the region, and the fact that right now both Israel and the Palestinians stand at an impasse, refusing to move forward. Bibi Netanyahu has said many times in the past few weeks that he will meet with Mahmoud Abbas any day, any place, and even yesterday told the French PM Emmanuel Valls that he will come to the Elysees Palace in Paris for direct negotiations with the PA head if need be.

What Netanyahu is against is for a plan to be discussed by third parties, which will actually prevent direct negotiations from taking place. Israel is especially cautious concerning France as they voted recently in favor of The UNESCO resolution that described the Temple Mount as solely a Muslim holy site and made no mention of its historical connection with the Jewish people. Two weeks after the vote and in light of Israel’s rightful anger, the French PM and President actually called their decision a misunderstanding and a mistake.

Why would France be so set and focused on organizing this conference precisely now, almost exactly one year before the presidential elections in France?

Before going any further, let me mention that President Hollande this morning has reached a new historical low in popularity polls with only 16% of the French people approving of him. It seems that the worse the domestic situation gets in France, the more unpopular the government becomes, and the more temptation there is for the president to look abroad. Could it be that President Hollande is under the false assumption that, if he is being seen as helping the Palestinian cause, he will get the votes of the Muslim population in France? Further than that, could he possibly think that this support could also help France against terrorism and pacify an organization such as ISIS? Israel has learnt the hard way over many years that there is no way to pacify blood-thirsty terrorists.

Whatever the French government’s real motivation is behind their recent moves against Israel, and 10 days before the conference is set to take place, it is time for President Hollande and his team to think of the potential negative consequences that could be triggered. Hamdallah already said today that he will not go for direct talks and leaves it to the international forum to deal with the process.  France really should give priority to its internal security and economic issues before trying to tell another country how to handle their own security affairs.

About the Author
BS in Finance from the Wharton School 1992. Banking experience for 12 years. Republic National Bank of NY, then UBS London then JP Morgan London. Has an investment manager for the past 10 years in Israel, working for several groups and individuals.