Francois Hollande, the toast of Tel Aviv

French President Francois Hollande is visiting Israel and receiving the red carpet treatment. That’s a far cry from the treatment he’s receiving back home where he is an object of ridicule and possessor of the lowest approval rating of any French president since 1958.

Hollande’s welcome in Israel is, of course, the result of French opposition to a deal with Iran that Israelis believe, correctly in my view, would have sold them out. It’s not clear how much credit Hollande actually deserves; some say that Laurent Fabius, France’s formidable foreign minister, acted more or less on his own to nix the Obama administration’s deal with Iran.

No matter. The embattled Israelis are happy to give Hollande full credit, and the embattled Hollande is happy to accept it.

So far, Hollande has played the role of Israel’s defender to the hilt. He declared Iran “a threat to Israel, the region, and the whole world,” adding that France will stand by its demands, and continue with its sanctions, until Iran gives up its quest for nuclear weapons.

We shall see.

Hollande, of course, cannot ignore the Palestinians during his visit to Israel — not unless he wants his domestic approval rating to plunge even lower.

But even on this issue, Hollande was much friendlier towards Israel than his predecessors Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarcozy. The latter was always constrained by the fear that, with his Jewish family background, he would be perceived as too sympathetic towards Israel.

Hollande has said nothing so far during this trip to suggest a tilt towards the Palestinians. Instead, he has been content to express his general hope that negotiations will yield progress.

We shall see what Hollande says on the subject when he visits Ramallah on Monday.

Hollande has good reason to cultivate strong relations with Israel. He arrived in Tel Aviv accompanied by seven ministers and almost 200 businessmen.

France was once Israel’s main supplier of arms. It might not mind resuming a more central role in this regard, especially if Israel and Saudi Arabia form some sort of defensive alliance against Iran.

Unfortunately for Israel, it’s not clear how much longer Hollande will remain in charge. There is talk of “cohabitation,” a power sharing arrangement with the opposition party.

But Israel needs help in the short-term, and must be delighted to be getting it from an unexpected source.


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