All hugs and no policy on Sarko’s Israel tour

“Anyone trying to destroy Israel will find France blocking the way,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared at a special session of the Knesset this week, during his three-day state visit to Israel. Mr Sarkozy’s visit was heavy on gestures, though rather light on political substance.

He presented his hosts with assurances of France’s commitment to Israel’s security, said he would never allow Iran to obtain nuclear arms. He also offered his recipe for lasting peace with the Palestinians — an end to the settlements, the two sides sharing Jerusalem and the establishment of a Palestinian state. He went out of his way to reassure Israelis of his empathy with their concerns when, at the state dinner at President Shimon Peres’ Jerusalem mansion, he cast aside the prepared speech and spoke without notes.


Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy meet their schmooze match in Shimon Peres

“I understand that Israelis feel they can rely only on themselves,” he said. “As an Israeli I would feel the same. I know that… When my children go to school, they are not afraid.” But he assured his listeners that “Israel has more friends than it realises”.

Besides his two main speeches, Mr Sarkozy, who was accompanied by his wife Carla Bruni, visited Yad Vashem, toured the Benedictine Monastery in  Abu Gosh and met Israeli businesspeople and Palestinian intellectuals.

“There wasn’t very much policy during this visit,” a senior Israeli official told the JC this week, “though it was reassuring to see that the next president of the EU is so friendly to Israel.” In the absence of any serious discussion, the attention focused on Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy. Fashion reporters mingled with political correspondents at the state dinner, where guests were served a cocktail called “the Carla”, a mix of ruby grapefruit juice and ouzo, reported to be one of her favourites.

The visit ended on a tragic note when a border policeman, guarding the perimeter at the farewell ceremony on Tuesday at Ben Gurion Airport, shot himself. Mr and Mrs Sarkozy were bundled quickly on to their plane, while bodyguards rushed President Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert into armoured cars, until it became clear that there had been no attempt to harm any of the leaders.

    Last updated: 2:27pm, June 27 2008