Thu 23 May 2024 8:05 am - Jerusalem Time

An exciting transformation.. Why did France decide to support ICC move against Netanyahu?

Dressed in black expressing mourning, French President Emmanuel Macron descended from the French presidential plane on a visit that Le Monde newspaper described as belated. The title appeared in every step Macron took: supporting and consoling Israel 17 days after the Al-Aqsa flood.

From the first moment, France tried to embrace Israeli grief by recalling the victims of dual French and Israeli citizenship. Macron tweeted about this, and the French media praised it only slightly, but the cordiality between Tel Aviv and Paris did not last long, or - at least - it did not last in the way that the Netanyahu government wanted, as the French warning of the Israeli army’s transgressions was repeated, and the matter ended with Paris’ support. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, announced his intention to issue an arrest warrant against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Galant, along with three Hamas leaders: Ismail Haniyeh, Muhammad al-Deif, and Yahya Sinwar.

It was not surprising, of course, that France demanded the heads of the leaders of the Palestinian resistance, since it had demanded from the beginning of the confrontations the formation of an international coalition to eliminate the resistance, similar to the Islamic State, but no one denies that supporting an international resolution against the leaders of the Israeli first rank - led by Netanyahu - surprised the people of the country. Israel and its haters alike.

Why did Macron's speech change?

Overnight, France quietly modified its position towards the war in Gaza in an unexpected way. Paris - which is home to the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe and is waging a fierce war at home against all manifestations of Islamic religiosity - has gradually shifted the compass of its policies since the outbreak of the “Al-Aqsa Flood” battle. On October 7 last.

At the beginning of the attack, France rushed to join its counterparts in the European Union and declared its full support for the alleged right of the Israeli occupation to defend itself, while the Eiffel Tower was lit up in the colors of the Israeli flag.

Among all the allies, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed forming an international coalition against the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), similar to the international coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and at the same time banned pro-Palestinian gatherings on its territory.

France was not satisfied with that. Two weeks after the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation, Macron met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem as part of a tour that included Egypt and Jordan in solidarity with Tel Aviv, without caring about the number of civilian deaths in Gaza.

But the French role did not proceed at the same pace. Within less than 3 weeks, Macron’s tone in support of the occupation calmed down, and his statements departed relatively from the European alignment, calling on Israel to stop killing civilians, while Paris hosted a conference to collect humanitarian aid for the Palestinians, and the conference pledged to provide French donations. It ranges between 20 million and 100 million euros this year.

In the last two decades, France's foreign policy has witnessed a slow shift away from positions that were in the past a well-established French doctrine regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. France believed that the conflict could not be settled except through a two-state solution (and therefore Paris refused in 2017 to recognize the decision of former US President Donald Trump). Trump made Jerusalem the capital of Israel, as it considered Jerusalem to be occupied territory. However, successive presidents since the turn of the millennium have gradually begun to abandon this political doctrine and align more explicitly with Israel’s positions.

France's official relationship with the Palestinian issue dates back to November 1947, when Paris voted in favor of the United Nations resolution on dividing Palestine into two states, one Arab and the other Jewish. That decision resulted in the announcement of the establishment of the occupying state, which France recognized.

But secret documents indicate the role of the French government that paved the way for the emergence of the Zionist entity, starting with the “Sykes-Picot” agreement and its approval of the Balfour Declaration.

By the 1950s, France was the ally that the occupation turned to and the main supplier of weapons and military equipment. The French even had a major contribution to building the nuclear reactor in Dimona in the Negev Desert.

The protection did not stop there. Rather, France intervened alongside Britain and Israel in 1956 as part of the tripartite aggression that aimed primarily to overthrow the rule of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

With the arrival of French President Charles de Gaulle to power, the pacts of friendship were no longer as strong as they were. Following the 1967 war - in which Israel occupied Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Golan - France suspended arms sales to Tel Aviv, and also supported Security Council resolutions to end the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories. These steps represented a rift in relations between France and Israel.

Diplomatic relations continued to be cold, while the occupying state tended to rely on its close alliance with Washington.

The 1980s witnessed signs of a new rapprochement with the arrival of French President François Mitterrand to power and his visit to the occupying state, but that did not prevent him from recognizing the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Washington and Israel at the time considered a terrorist organization.

France then continued this approach after the appointment of President Jacques Chirac, who explicitly called for recognition of the State of Palestine.

In general, the period of the rule of Mitterrand and Chirac was considered the golden age of the Palestinian issue in Paris, and with the arrival of Nicolas Sarkozy to the Elysee in 2007 coinciding with Israel’s attack on Gaza following the Hamas movement’s control of the Strip, French policy witnessed a turning point and a new turn, the first evidence of which was the French President’s reception of the Israeli Prime Minister. At that time, Ariel Sharon was in Paris despite the war crimes committed by his army against the Palestinians.

French policy continued its pro-Israel approach with François Hollande and Emmanuel Macron, as they presented themselves as friends of the occupation, without formally abandoning the principle of the two-state solution and recognizing the right of the Palestinians to establish their state.

But what is different is that no one is anymore pressing hard for a just solution to the Palestinian issue in light of the development of relations between Paris and Tel Aviv.

From unconditional support to conditional condemnation

Macron did not limit himself to providing support, but he flew to Tel Aviv to be close to his allies, and from there he called for the formation of an international coalition to eradicate Hamas, but after weeks had passed since the “Al-Aqsa Flood,” the occupation failed to recover its prisoners or achieve any valuable military victories in the battle. At a time when thousands of Palestinian civilians were killed in cold blood.

Macron changed his approach to the event, and in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), he openly criticized the occupation war and its ground campaign on Gaza, saying, "Israel must stop killing children, women, and the elderly in Gaza. There is no justification for the bombing."

After Macron was calling on the world to stand with Israel, his tone changed and he began calling on European leaders and the United States to support his position in order to pressure Israel to cease fire.

Some of the secrets of this transformation reveal a memorandum that was supposed to be secret, but it was leaked to the French newspaper Le Figaro. 12 French ambassadors to the Middle East and the Maghreb region wrote a collective memorandum that they signed and sent to the Elysee Palace and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is a precedent in the history of French diplomacy. .

The memorandum included explicit objections and warnings about the repercussions of the positions taken by Macron in support of Israel, as a result of which France became accused of complicity in the acts of genocide carried out by the occupation in Gaza. Anger escalated to the point of threatening to kill one of the French ambassadors working in the region, and so the ambassadors took an internal diplomatic stance. In an attempt to change the position of the French government and bring it back to balance.

It seems that this message alone is not what prompted Macron to review his policy. The operation launched by Hamas and the Israeli ground invasion were enough to ignite deep tensions inside France.

France is home to about half a million Jews, and at the same time Muslims represent at least 6 million of its population of 70 million people, most of whom are from the Maghreb, making them the largest Muslim community in Europe.

These were considerations that Macron was supposed to take into account before declaring his unconditional support for Israel, and before the Paris police took a harsh stance against the protests in support of the Palestinian cause.

France quickly became the first country in the European Union to officially and publicly call for a ceasefire in Gaza and a sustainable truce between Hamas and the occupation to end the war.

French motives were not the result of a late awakening as much as they were linked to pragmatic reasons related to France's ambition to restore its lost influence on the global scene, and to reposition itself in the Middle East in order to gain sufficient credibility to allow it to be a real mediator with a heard voice.

All of this comes within the framework of the policy of "strategic independence" from Washington that Paris is adopting under Macron's leadership, in an attempt to recall the old legacy of de Gaulle, after Paris tended to align more with Washington since Sarkozy's presidency.

Complex calculations

The sudden transformations in Macron's statements can also be read in the midst of internal conflicts in France between different political factions. The political scene in the country has been divided into 3 main currents: the extreme right with its various leaders, the radical left led by the "Proud France" party, and then there is what is known as " The Macronist movement does not only express the supporters of the current French president, but it is a broad political movement that does not belong to the classical political movements and is forging a different line.

Initially, Macron and his movement chose to take a sharp stance on the Palestinian resistance attack against Israel on October 7, by showing a clear bias towards Tel Aviv, in order to avoid the bidding of the extreme right, which in recent years has been trying to get rid of the shame of the Nazi stigma, and to express support. In full, the Jews are represented in Israel, to overcome some old statements and positions that placed this movement in the category of “anti-Semitic.”

Therefore, the French government supported Israel, trying at the same time to monopolize this support by recalling the old positions of the extreme right, which was stated in a tweet by French Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne in which she said that the presence of Marine Le Pen’s party in the “march against anti-Semitism” organized on November 12 /Last November “Doesn’t fool anyone.”

In the same tweet, Bourne said that the absence of the “France Proud” party speaks for itself, and here another piece of the French political puzzle appears. Since the beginning of the events, the “France Proud” party has taken a position in support of Gaza, highlighting the crimes committed by Israel against Palestinian civilians.

Some party members also described what was happening in the Gaza Strip as ethnic genocide, at a time when French talk shows were glorifying the occupying state day and night, and launching a strong attack on anyone who dared to criticize Tel Aviv, and even Netanyahu.

The French government's strategy has always been to consider the radical left as another face of the extreme right by accusing it of anti-Semitism and inciting public opinion against Israel, which is considered taboo in France, not to mention describing the "Hamas" movement as a "resistance movement," which is a major departure from tone. prevailing politics in Paris.

But with the continuation of the harsh Israeli war and Jean-Luc Mélenchon's party continuing its support for Gaza, registering a permanent presence in the demonstrations in support of Palestine, even during the period of official ban, Macron found himself required to find a balanced position to confirm his different policy from the policies of the "extremist movements" - from his point of view - on both sides.

This change began gradually. At first, there was relative leniency towards organizing gatherings and demonstrations in support of Palestine, then it ended with criticizing Israel’s desire to eliminate Hamas, under the pretext that this goal was unrealistic and could prolong the war for years, and demanding a permanent ceasefire.

We cannot read this change in the official French position as a strategic vision as much as it can be seen as a reaction resulting from the great ambiguity in which the Elysée lives in regarding a large number of issues, including the files related to the Middle East, as we cannot describe French movements in the region. By being successful, including its movements in Lebanon, the most prominent arena of French influence in the Middle East.

At the same time, this relentless pursuit of dreams of returning to playing a broader external role makes Macron and his country lose a lot of credibility, according to Agnès Levallois, a writer and researcher at the Institute for Research and Studies on the Mediterranean and the Middle East, especially when he called for the formation of an alliance to eliminate Hamas.

France also does not have any real means to achieve the solution that it has always called for, which is the two-state solution, and it also knows with certainty that the issue of handing over Gaza to the Palestinian Authority is no less difficult than ending the Islamic resistance in the Gaza Strip.

In addition to all of these aforementioned reasons, Macron has an important reason to take a different position, which is that the continuation of the war increases the internal explosion of the situation due to the simultaneous growth of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism on French soil.

Therefore, the French president is forced to search for a delicate balance that does not anger Muslims and does not alienate the Jewish community in order to avoid exacerbating internal polarization, and at the same time to try to restore Paris’s lost influence.

Recent days have demonstrated the flawed efforts of the parties that achieved immediate gains from igniting deep tensions in France in the hope of winning a share of the votes of voters on the right or left. More importantly, the blind Western support for the occupation opened the door to new mediators away from London, Washington and Berlin.

In Macron's view, this is an opportunity to return again to the old Gaullist principle and restore traditional French policy towards the Palestinian issue.

Perhaps Paris's adoption of a radically different position from its ally Washington regarding the International Criminal Court's decision confirms to us more and more that France's external line has become subject to calculations much more complex than those of classical alliances.

Source: Al Jazeera


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An exciting transformation.. Why did France decide to support ICC move against Netanyahu?