At Israel’s Parliament, a French Lesson in Leadership for Bush

 This piece also appears at TPMCafe

Barely a month after President Bush chose the venue of Israel’s Knesset to scold his domestic critics (or was he scolding the Israeli leadership, as this NYT editorial suggests) with accusations of appeasement, French President Nicholas Sarkozy found himself at the same podium yesterday, but with dramatically differentIMG results.

Sarko gave his American counterpart something of a French lesson not only in how to behave at a foreign parliament, but also in what constitutes both friendship to an ally and leadership on an issue.

The full Sarkozy speech is here (in French, the English version is not yet available, but highlights can be read here)–and contrasting it to Bush’s May 15th effort is nothing short of embarrassing.

Sarkozy is credited by Israel and by the French Jewish community with having immeasurably improved French-Israeli bilateral relations. He is considered a friend and trusted ally and was feted during his Israel visit–no less than his Washington equivalent.

Sarkozy’s speech was warm, full of admiration for Israel’s accomplishments and understanding for Israel’s genuine security concerns–but it also contained the home truths that the Israeli’s needed to hear and that a visiting friend was best placed to impart. It contained precisely the ingredient–honest friendly advice or leadership–that was so absent in Bush’s gutless pander-fest. Take this as a useful corrective to David Brook’s gushing op-ed today and a reminder that when in Jerusalem brave Bush becomes “le wimp”.

Bush did refer to some of what is needed for a peace deal during his visit last month–but that was in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt three days later, not in the Knesset–really courageous of you, Mr. President.

Two Presidents, two speeches, one leader:

President Bush on the borders for a 2 state solution: ___________.

President Sarkozy: “It is not possible to have peace without a negotiated border based on the 1967 lines with an exchange of territories.”

President Bush on settlements: ___________.

President Sarkozy: “Peace cannot be achieved without a total and immediate cessation of the settlements.”

President Bush on Jerusalem’s future status: ___________.

President Sarkozy: “Peace cannot be achieved without the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of two states and guaranteeing freedom of access to holy sites for all religions.”

President Bush on the Palestinian refugee issue: ___________.

President Sarkozy: “Peace cannot be achieved without solving the problem of the Palestinian refugees, while respecting the identity and purpose of Israel.”

President Bush on Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian, or Israeli-Lebanese peace talks: _________.

President Sarkozy: “(France) is ready to organize on its soil all the talks that could lead to (peace), whether in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Syrian-Israeli dialogue, or the talks that will have to resume, one day soon I hope, between Israel and Lebanon.”

Both stated their commitment to Israel’s existence and security, and expressed their staunch opposition to anti-Semitism. And both of course discussed the threat of Iran.

Just how appalling was the use of the phrase “the false comfort of appeasement”, by America’s leader to describe negotiations is given a new clarity when one considers that “appeasement” (read: diplomacy) has been outsourced by the Bushies to the French and other Europeans.

So Sarko spoke of both “sanctions” and “openness” regarding Iran. The U.S. is backing the EU 3’s talks with Iran–but then hurling abuse about it when in the Knesset or when it suits domestic politics.

This is all the more stunning when one considers that President Sarkozy has also improved US-France relations, is close to Bush, and is hardly a ‘gauchiste’. But then this was not really about ideology–Bush probably agrees with Sarkozy on the substance of 2 states–it was about leadership, or the lack thereof.

Oh, and by the way, after the Sarkozy tough love speech there was appreciation, applause and respect from the Israeli’s–and no sign of menu’s offering “freedom fries” in the Knesset cafeteria.