The election of François Hollande as president is expected to have significant implications for French foreign policy. As far as the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are concerned, President Nicolas Sarkozy has had no remarkable achievements to his credit. However, the French Jewish community considers him a friend of Israel.
As to Hollande, his stance with regard to Israel is not as clear yet. Fears over his position on the issue focus on the leftist wing of his party. The name of Martine Aubry, the First Secretary of the French Socialist Party and Hollande's rival in the party's primaries, has been mentioned in this context. The price Hollande is liable to pay to secure the support of the leftist front or the [leftist] green party, Europe Écologie–Les Verts [Europe Ecology–The Greens], if and when they join his government, also gives rise to concerns.
Hollande's election campaign chief, Pierre Moscovici, who is of Jewish origin, dismisses these concerns as absurd. Moscovici, who served [from 1997 to 2002] as Minister for European Affairs and was named as a likely candidate for the premiership or the Foreign Ministry, says that "all sorts of false ideas are circulating here. No one challenges Hollande's policy [on the Middle East]. After all, people are familiar with his views and know him as a friend of Israel and the [French] Jewish community and as a devoted crusader against anti-Semitism. True, he is committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, but also to Israel's security."
In interviews with the Jewish media, Hollande himself confirmed that he opposed the boycott on Israel and that any political body that would join his government would have to accept his platform. Hollande clarified that the Israeli-Palestinian issue would not be on top of his agenda and that it would be dealt with in line with the traditional European and French approach to the issue.
Benoît Hamon is the spokesman of the Socialist Party and one of its promising young leaders. He served as member of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with Israel. He contended the Socialist Party leadership and ran in the primaries for the party's nomination for the presidential election. He will apparently be appointed to a senior post in the socialist government. During the election campaign he divided his time between the party's headquarters and Hollande's campaign staff to coordinate every move and declaration.
In the TV confrontation between the two runners for the presidency no foreign policy issues were raised, the Middle East included. Doesn't François Hollande have any interest in these issues?
The agenda for the TV confrontation left no room for discussion of foreign policy. The debate on European and economic issues lengthened, and in the time left, only two foreign policy issues were raised — Afghanistan and the situation in the Sahel region in Africa. This does not mean that François Hollande has no interest in international issues. These issues are at the heart of his platform, as we believe that we should reconsider and revise the French doctrine with respect to Europe, the international relations of France, its relations with Africa, the Mediterranean countries and Latin America. And, of course, the as yet unresolved Middle East issue should be addressed.
Should Israel be wary of François Hollande? Is any change to be expected in French [foreign] policy? It has been claimed the Socialist Party platform is not in favor of Israel.
It certainly is not true. The Socialist Party position has always been clear cut and has not changed. For decades we have been saying the same thing. We would like to see both sides [Israelis and Palestinians] living in peace and security, in two states, next to each other. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that with the neighboring countries have been going on for decades and the conflict is liable to last forever. We are interested in a political solution reached through negotiations that would lead to the co-existence of two countries. We hope, together with the European Union, to use French diplomacy to act in this direction. This has always been the French doctrine and it is not going to change. François Hollande will go down in history as following in the footsteps of his socialist predecessor François Mitterrand, carrying on his policy and activity — the aim [on the Middle East front] being to find the means for sustainable peace by way of negotiations.
However, there are nuances differentiating Hollande's positions from those held by President Sarkozy — for instance, with respect to the recognition of a unilaterally announced Palestinian state.
The position of François Hollande is that we support the establishment and the recognition of a Palestinian state. If such recognition is accorded under conditions that facilitate the peace process, it will be all for the best. If and when the question becomes relevant, we will answer it.
Will France continue to support direct negotiations between the parties or will it rather consider a forced solution?
We believe that a sustainable solution cannot be assured unless it is agreed on by both sides, with the support of the two peoples involved, through direct negotiations between the two principal players in the conflict, the Israelis and the Palestinians. If subsequently, the opportunity arises for other parties to advance the process in one way or another, they will do so. However, since the negotiations have come to a dead end and no significant progress has been made in the talks and, in fact, there seems to be a regression in the process, the situation today is that the only initiative aimed at reviving the deadlocked process and renewing the dialog between the parties is that of President Mahmoud Abbas.
What about the conditions for Hamas' participation in the negotiations? Have they remained the same?
We believe that the negotiations should be held by the legitimate authorities of Israel and the Palestinians. Later on, the Palestinians may reach a situation that would allow the expansion of their delegation to include in the negotiations all the parties involved. This would certainly be a big step ahead.
It is believed by many that François Hollande holds a somewhat different position on Israel and [French] Middle Eastern policy than that commonly maintained by other circles in your party. Will the President's stance prevail?
There is only one stand of the Socialist Party. There is no circle that favors Israel's interests and another that sympathizes with the Palestinians.
Assuming that the Israeli left emerges victorious from the elections, would it promote or facilitate the relations between our two countries?
We believe that a leftist party would be much better for the Israelis themselves. As to the relations between the two countries, they are also influenced by personal relations between the leaders and, obviously, by the foreign policy of the two countries. In Israel, a deep desire for social change has been manifest recently; an exceptionally massive popular movement has emerged calling for a new policy of allocation of resources and protesting against the social inequality. I hope that it will be politically reflected in the upcoming elections in Israel and in the makeup of the Israeli parliament. Naturally, I am all for a change as, in my opinion, a leftist government would adopt a policy to the advantage and welfare of all Israeli citizens, by far better than the policy currently in effect in Israel.