It was the insult heard around the world: Reports surfaced Monday that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was overheard by reporters at last week’s G20 Summit in Cannes telling President Obama he can no longer bear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I can’t stand to see him any more, he’s a liar,” journalists overheard Sarkozy saying through a hot mic as the world leaders met privately in a side room. In response, Obama lamented: “You are fed up with him, but me, I have to deal with him every day.”
Perhaps this can be expected from Sarkozy, even though he is said to have good relations with Netanyahu, as far as French-Israeli relations go. Nevertheless, during a French cabinet meeting a few weeks back, Sarkozy told his ministers, “Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] is a statesman, but Netanyahu never misses an opportunity to disappoint us,” according to a report in Le Canard Enchaine. After all, Paris did decide to vote in favor of the Palestinian bid to join UNESCO two weeks ago in the latest French flirtation to come at Israel and America’s expense.
But President Obama’s response crumbles the weak facade that his relations with Netanyahu are cordial. And given this administration’s record, this latest news shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Presidents Obama and Sarkozy at the G20 Summit in France.
President Obama’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which mold his perception of the Israeli leader, are ideological and misguided. Netanyahu has given in to U.S. pressure on numerous occasions in the name of peace. He announced his acceptance of a Palestinian state for the first time, freezing settlement construction for 10 months, and, more recently, he declared that he will dismantle all Israeli settlements deemed illegal by the courts. On substance, Netanyahu has proven to be a partner, even on faulty initiatives coming from the White House.
On the other hand, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has himself become an obstacle to peace. He waited until the end of the settlement freeze to enter into negotiations with Israel, only to declare he wouldn’t agree to renewed peace talks unless there was another freeze. Abbas has also repeatedly denied recognizing Israel as a Jewish State and he has rejected Netanyahu’s continuous pleas to return to the negotiating table – preferring to go against Washington’s wishes and apply for statehood status at the United Nations instead. Apparently this has not managed to provoke the ire of Obama and Sarkozy; they reserve their specific rancor for Netanyahu.
So what does it all mean? Elliot Abrams explained: “If this were only a matter of personal relations between Obama and Netanyahu, it could be left at that. But it is far more consequential, for by that comment—and especially as it was made in private and can be interpreted as his actual view—President Obama has joined the chorus of assaults on the Jewish State. We only have one president at a time and they only have one prime minister. To treat the prime minister of Israel in this way is disgraceful.”
Abrams is right and presidential hopefuls are taking notice. Mitt Romney said in a statement, “At a moment when the Jewish state is isolated and under threat, we cannot have an American president who is disdainful of our special relationship with Israel.” Rick Perry tweeted, “I would be happy to talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu every day. I know our close ally in this critical region has valuable things to say.” And Michelle Bachmann told reporters, “I call on President Obama to immediately apologize to Prime Minister Netanyahu and I also believe that the president should demonstrate leadership and demand that the French President Sarkozy do the same.”