What’s the one thing the presidents of France and the USA can agree on? Their mutual dislike of Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. But no one was supposed to know. By SIMON ALLISON.
The formalities were concluded, the microphones were off, and Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy could dispense with the doublespeak and enjoy a few minutes of candid conversation at last week’s G20 summit. The pair got round to talking about Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu.
SARKOZY: I cannot stand him. He’s a liar.
OBAMA: You’re fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day.
But the microphones weren’t off.
An astonished French press pack heard every word of this exchange which has the potential to seriously damage relations between France, the US and Israel. Bizarrely, it wasn’t reported for nearly a week, apparently agreeing among themselves that, because the comments were supposed to be confidential, they should be kept so, demonstrating at the same time that French journalism can be a little too obsequious towards those in power. But the comments eventually emerged, causing huge embarrassment to the two leaders (although some would argue that Sarkozy has a point).
France isn’t particularly close to Israel at the moment, having voted for Palestine to be recognised as a full state at the recent Unesco vote; this was what Sarkozy and Obama were talking about. And the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu has been rumoured to have been fraught for a long time. But confirmation of the difficulties between them could well further complicate relations between the two countries, and indeed have an impact on Obama’s re-election bid. After all, the pro-Israel lobby wields enormous electoral influence. DM
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