A Pyrrhic Palestinian Victory in France

Just like the House of Commons a bit earlier, on December 2 the French National Assembly voted for a seemingly significant but in reality inconsequential resolution calling for the recognition of the state of Palestine.

Indeed, the resolution won by a large margin: 339 to 151. But there is very little substance about it, either in constitutional or political terms. It may even accelerate a pro-Israel reaction both in France and in the European Union at large.

The constitutional angle is clear enough. As Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, observed a few days before the vote, “the policy of France,” including its foreign policy and the recognition of foreign States, “is determined and conducted by the Government” under the Fifth Republic Constitution of 1958, article 20. Moreover, according to a constitutional custom tracing back to General Charles de Gaulle, the Fifth Republic’s first president from 1959 to 1969, it is the president’s exclusive prerogative to make decisions in matters of defense and international relations.

The French executive -- President François Hollande as well as Prime Minister Manuel Valls and diplomacy chief Fabius -- has definitely made up its mind about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. It sticks to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as defined by the 1993 Oslo accords and subsequent agreements. Accordingly, it opposes the recognition of the state of Palestine under the present circumstances, since such a move would wreck the Oslo accords for good. However, in order to revive and accelerate the peace process, France is prepared to hold a peace conference in Paris with Israel, the Palestinians, and the powers or international organizations that may have been involved at one point or another (the United States, Russia, the EU, the UN, etc).

Given that context, a French National Assembly resolution calling for the recognition of the state of Palestine carries no more weight than a United Nations General Assembly resolution. It has no binding power whatsoever.

The political angle is a bit more complex. Still, it leads to the similar conclusion that the resolution is a non-starter. It has been essentially supported by the current Left majority in the National Assembly (a coalition of socialists, quasi-socialists, neocommunists, and Greens, who hold 343 seats out of 577). The conservative opposition (225 seats) opposed it or abstained. However, the legitimacy of the Left-dominated National Assembly is eroding at a smart pace. According to a CSA/Le Figaro poll that was coincidentally released on the very day the assembly voted on Palestine, new elections, if held now, would be an unprecedented triumph for Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative party and its centrist allies.

They would garner about 500 seats out of 577, and in an unprecedented disaster for the left, they would be reduced to about 60 seats. The remaining seats would go to Marine Le Pen’s National Front. Even if the next elections are scheduled for 2017, and even though a lot can happen in the time before that, the stage is set for a momentous political reversal.

The unravelling of the French Left may be the key to an intriguing paradox: why in the world did the parliamentary Left insist upon a foreign policy resolution that the governing Left had no intention of implementing?

Dogmatism may be at stake: supporting the state of Palestine, whatever that means and even if it might turn into an Islamic State of Palestine, is part of the Left and Far Left mantras worldwide. A further explanation may be that the Left’s last hope to survive in the coming election is to garner as much support as possible from the immigrant Muslim community, which will provide an average of 5 to 10% of the vote.

Finally, Hollande and Valls are so unpopular among their own constituency that the entire socialist and left-wing political class needs to distance themselves from them on almost all issues, either domestic or international.

Sarkozy, who was elected on November 30 as the new chairman of the conservative UMP party -- an important step for being reelected as president in 2017 -- campaigned against the Palestine resolution. This point will not be lost on pro-Israel voters in the future, nor on a growing number of voters, both on the Right and the Left, that are concerned with the rise of jihadism in Europe as well as in the Middle East. Sarkozy’s main rivals among the conservatives, Alain Juppé and François Fillon, both of them former prime ministers, did not take part in the ballot. They had previously supported the socialist resolution; this too will not be easily forgotten.

The two National Front members of the National Assembly abstained, but one of them, barrister Gilbert Collard, delivered a passionately pro-Israel speech on November 28. While the National Front’s old guard is seen as “anti-Zionist,” its new supporters are generally pro-Israel. In a rare instance of circumstantial convergence, Meyer Habib, the centrist representative for the 8th French expatriates district (Italy, Israel, and other Eastern Mediterranean countries), heartily applauded Collard’s speech.

Some Eastern European countries recognized a so-called state of Palestine even before the Oslo accords and the creation of the Palestinian Authority, when they were still under Soviet control, and neglected thereafter to mend that move. Sweden -- under a leftwing coalition dependent on the immigrant vote -- was the first Western European country last September to grant formal recognition to post-Oslo Palestine. Some national assemblies, in the United Kingdom, in Spain, and now in France, followed and quite frivolously indulged in non-binding resolutions.

However, the French vote was passed under such Pyrrhic conditions that the whole exercise may come to an end.

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