Why Did Sarkozy and Obama 'Dis' [Disrespect] Bibi?
During a conversation when they thought nobody was listening French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. President Barack Obama said nasty things about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A lot of the analysis about what this tells us I think is rather misleading.
Regarding Sarkozy, French-Israel relations have been good and there have not been major problems with Sarkozy. On one hand, Sarkozy has been far friendlier to Israel than his Gaullist and Socialist predecessors. True, he is surrounded by some hostile advisors, including the career staff at the Foreign Ministry, but on the other hand there is a defense and counterterrorism establishment that admires Israel.
Indeed, Sarkozy helped kill the Palestinian unilateral independence effort in the UN Security Council, a major service to Israel. Yet France voted in favor of the Palesstinian entry into the UNESCO organization. Incidentally, Sarkozy has also not been a fan of Obama in the past.
Why suddenly has Sarkozy turned against Netanyahu? I can't prove it but I think there is evidence for the following scenario. Sarkozy decided that he was going to broker a major deal at the UN, showing that France was a leading great power in the world. (A theme I think you have heard before is a major French goal.) So he went to Netanyahu with a proposal: Israel would accept unilateral independence for Palestine and Sarkozy would get Israel something from the Palestinians (perhaps recognition of a Jewish state?).
Netanyahu played along a bit but, of course, knew that Sarkozy wouldn't get anything from the Palestinian Authority. Sarkozy's idea -- like that of virtually all the well-intentioned or bad-intentioned, naive or cynical, friendly or hostile to Israel busybodies who think they are going to make peace -- just didn't make real sense. At any rate, Sarkozy thought he had something from Israel that he didn't. His UN speech implying he wanted to support unilateral independence was certainly bad from Israel's standpoint.
The deal fell through -- it was doomed from the start since the Palestinian Authority wouldn't compromise -- and, of course, he blamed Israel and not the Palestinians. Hence his fury that Netanyahu was a "liar."
As for Obama, some have explained his remark about frustrations in dealing with Netanyahu every day as just going along with Sarkozy. Others claimed Obama's remark was justified. This latter point is absurd. The truth is that Netanyahu has done everything Obama has asked while the PA has done nothing at all. If only there was a U.S. president who talked that way. But there's more, apparently, to be gained by bashing Israel and coddling the PA in words.
Remember two things. First, U.S. policy has taken virtually no material action against Israel in terms of bilateral relations. The hostility is all words. Better nasty words and okay actions than the other way around.