November 23, 2011

The real meaning of Sarkozy-Obama chat

Many people still seem curious or worried about what the recently overheard exchange between President Obama and French President Sarkozy reveals about their bias against Israel and its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. There is reason to worried and buoyed, but not in the way most observers -- whether left-wing or right-wing -- might think.

The first lesson is not that Sarkozy's statement -- that Netanyahu is a "liar" -- reflects the innate anti-Semitism of European leaders. (Obama commiserated, noting that he has to deal with Netanyahu "every day".) It's that Netanyahu has managed to forfeit the trust of one of Israel's most ardent champions on the Continent. The French invented modern diplomacy, so they are used to bearing the endemic deceit and betrayal of international wheeling and dealing.

(It would be ironic if the publication of memoirs by the son of Israel's former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, was the impetus for Sarkozy's claim, since Sharon famously uttered the same charge to Netanyahu in person.)

Sarkozy has been committed to assuring Israel's security and to tolerating Israeli actions that most of his colleagues roundly condemn. He has long contended -- at least in off-the-record meetings -- that if the West does not stop Iran's nuclear program, then Israel will do so on its own. So, if Netanyahu has managed to alienate Sarkozy, one of Europe's most powerful politicians, that speak more to Netanyahu and Israel's own course than to anything else.

The second lesson should make Israelis and all Jews proud. Despite all the acrimony and recriminations, we now know that the President of the United States deals with the Prime Minister of Israel every day. That's right: EVERY DAY. There can't be more than a few other world leaders on that level, and they probably hold permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. Not Saudi Arabia, not Argentina or Brazil, not South Africa. But tiny, embattled Israel? Yes.

Regardless of the reasons, and beyond the mutual suspicion, Obama deals with Netanyahu every single day. And that must be good for Israel, especially if Netanyahu has driven away his best friend in Europe.

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