France has warned Israel that its ties with the European Union might be in danger if Tel Aviv goes ahead with a plan to extend sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. The latter makes up some 30 percent of the predominately Palestinian West Bank.
The bill is supposed to reach the desks of Israeli parliamentarians as early as July, when they will be asked to vote in favour or against the initiative that has already angered the Palestinians as well as Arab and Muslim nations.
In a bid to put pressure on Tel Aviv, EU foreign ministers met in Brussels three weeks ago to discuss the measures the bloc could implement to steer Israel away from its current policy.
For Avi Pazner, former Israeli ambassador to France, the move by Paris was not surprising.
"Out of the 27 states that comprise the European bloc, France has always chosen to stand with two or three countries known for their criticism of the Jewish state such as Ireland and Sweden, without understanding Tel Aviv's security needs and concerns".
Former Allies Turned Rivals
In the past, it was different. Long before Israel managed to forge an alliance with the US in the mid-1960s, it was France that provided the newly born state with arms and ammunition to fight its enemies.
The shift only came in 1962, after then-President Charles de Gaulle pulled French troops from Algeria paving the way for a thawing of relations between the French Republic and Arab nations.
Determined to secure access to their energy resources, de Gaulle wanted to tighten the ties between Paris and Arab nations but to do so he needed to loosen relations with Israel. Eventually he made that call.
In 1967, amid the Six-Day War, France imposed an arms embargo, denying the Jewish state access to weapons. Tel Aviv won that war but the chasm between the two states continued to widen over the years.
More recently, France (along with other EU states) introduced the labeling of products made in the West Bank and the Golan Heights to let buyers make "educated choices" before purchasing items. It has also supported a number of UN resolutions that slammed the Jewish state for its conduct toward the Palestinians.
Domestic Politics - Roots of All Evil
The reason for this behaviour, says Pazner, is the domestic political landscape in France. "It has strong anti-Israel currents in the right and left of its political spectrum, not to speak of the country's large Muslim community that is often hostile towards Tel Aviv".
In 2018, for example, a French poll found that 53 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that "Zionism is an international organisation that seeks to influence the world and societies to Jews' benefit".
Fifty-seven percent described Israel as a threat to regional stability, whereas 51 percent said they believed the Jewish state was a theocracy.
Given the general public's mood, French policies are not surprising but Pazner is certain that measures taken by France will be limited in nature, due to the "strong economic, scientific, and cultural cooperation between the two countries".
"I don't see a scenario where France would call back its ambassador. Nor do I see a possibility of Paris boycotting Israel, simply because their law prohibits such an activity".
A scenario where Paris, along with other European countries, would introduce sanctions against Israel, is unlikely too, believes Pazner, given that the bloc is often struggles to reach a consensus when it comes to issues concerning the Jewish state.
"Therefore, all they can do is to express their disapproval at the move but that's unlikely to influence Israel's decision making circles".
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