PARIS/JERUSALEM (EJP)--- News of Laurent Fabius’ appointment as Foreign Minister in the new French government under Socialist President Francois Hollande has been received calmly in Israel.
Fabius was widely considered as a frontrunner for the position and was sent last February to Israel and Ramallah as Hollande’s special envoy in the run-up to the French presidential election, to reassure both Israel and the Palestinians regarding Hollande’s Middle East agenda.
A former Prime Minister under former President Mitterrand and the son of a Jewish art dealer, Fabius convinced Netanyahu of Hollande’s commitment to maintaining outgoing President Sarkozy’s tough position over the Iran nuclear issue, as well as opposing the continued construction of settlements and pressing Israel to pursue the peace process with the Palestinians.
Fabius is considered to occupy a centre-left position and is known for supporting Israel and taking a balanced stance to Israeli-Palestinian relations. Israel is said not to expect a drastic change in France’s attitude in the Iranian and Palestinian issues.
Reaction amongst the Jewish community in France has, on the whole, been equally tempered.
“The main question in France is not regarding the position of the Foreign Minister, as the political system is very centralised and the power of international relations lays in the hands of the president,” Frederic Encel, Professor in International Relations at ESG Management School in Paris and expert in Franco-Israeli relations, told EJP.
Despite Nicolas Sarkozy’s good relationship with Israel, he did not shy away from criticising the settlement policy, or indeed, Netanyahu himself. As a Foreign Ministry official claimed in the wake of the French elections: “It will be hard to be even more against the settlements and for a Palestinian State than Sarkozy was. And like the French saying goes, everything changes, yet everything remains the same.”
Frederic Encel is more adamant regarding the future of France’s position regarding Israel: “I am convinced that the policy will continue as it is. During Hollande’s 11 years as head of the Socialist party, he never tolerated or even allowed demonstrations against Israel, even during the intifada in 2001. He was the only European socialist head to maintain this position. I have never heard or read anything negative from Hollande regarding Israel.”
Not all French community figures are as convinced policy will remain stable towards Israel under the new Foreign Minister.
Richard Prasquier, President of CRIF, the representative body of Jewish organisations in France, told EJP: “I don’t know how things will be. Mr Fabius is a respected figure with lots of experience and has been Prime Minister. We will have to see how it (foreign policy) will be.”
Regarding the structure of Hollande’s first government, whose Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, is a very close to the new President, Encel went on to say:
“Laurent Fabius was selected because of the balance of power in the Socialist party. President Hollande has many personalities surrounding him who are friends of Israel, like Pierre Moscovici, newly named Minister of the Economy, Finance and External Trade, Vincent Peillon, Minister of National Education.
Socialist Party leader, Martine Aubry, once of the touted names for the position of Prime Minister, is hostile to Israel which is not the case with Hollande”.
To the relief of the Jewish community, Aubry didn’t get any ministerial post.