Shimon Peres and Nicholas Sarkozy bumping chests (Photo: Ynet).
Israeli President Shimon Peres inaugurated the literary festival, Le Salon du Livre, in Paris today, capping a warm reception in France that is being widely interpreted as a signal of the revitalized relationship between the two nations. But has the French position on Israel really changed? I'm not sure. But I would tend to see recent developments as the outgrowth of French President Nicholas Sarkozy's own personal preference for close, public ties with the Jewish state, and not as a fundamental reorientation of the French foreign policy (as Le Monde). Sarko is special. First he married Carla Bruni, former femme fatale of the French intelligentsia, now he wants to require every French schoolchild to "adopt" a coeval victim of the Holocaust. What will make things interesting for the outside observer is that the Sarkozy administration contains in addition to the one in the Élysée an equally strong personality on the Quai d'Orsay: foreign minister Bernard Kouchner. He has deep ties to nearly everyone in Lebanese politics -- though it seems he couldn't convince the Lebanese delegation to today's Salon not to boycott, which was indeed a major loss for a Francophonie that is under assault from cultural critics. But those ties, combined with Sarkozy's energetic engagement with the Middle East, which has already included visits from the Maghreb to the Gulf, (where the French are establishing a permanent base in Abu-Dhabi), may pay dividends for the peace process, for the effort to contain Iranian nuclear ambitions, and more. Or maybe I'm too optimistic. At any rate, cheers to the Israelis whose psyches may have been salved today by those gatekeepers of the world community, the French.