Israel’s land invasion continues with the Jewish state showing little sign it is ready to negotiate a truce. While Hamas has indicated it is prepared to begin negotiations, Israel does not intend to sit at the table with Hamas in any future negotiations, reports Haaretz:
Israel will instead seek separate agreements with moderate Arab states, with the Palestinian Authority and with the international community.Despite disallowing signals from Israel about the prospects of their short-term success, the ever-ambitious Sarkozy is taking advantage of the US power vacuum to assume diplomatic leadership in the talks, hoping to capitalize on France’s controversially reinvigorated ties with Syria, Time reports:
"The international community will initiate the agreements and will impose it on Hamas," [a Haaretz] source said. "The agreements will be with both the PA and Egypt and then if Hamas will not agree it will pay the price, mostly by even greater [diplomatic] isolation."
As Israel's offensive on Gaza continues, Sarkozy announced on Thursday that he will visit both Israel and the Palestinian capital of Ramallah on Jan. 5 in an effort to broker a halt to the violence. So far, there are few indications that Sarkozy's signature take-charge moves will produce a quick result. But Sarkozy will be hoping that his controversial resumption of relations with Syria last year will translate into diplomatic leverage that can deliver Hamas cooperation in a new cease-fire.Where in the world is the United States? With a power-vacuum this big, Obama’s favorite transition sound-bite, “there is only one president at a time” should be changed to the clumsier but judicious, “there should only be one president at a time, but now we have none, so maybe somebody should do something about that.” Then again, maybe Obama and Bush are secretly happy the problem can be pushed off for another few weeks before the US has to get serious about it - continue the New Years celebrations!
Given the absence of the U.S.'s traditional lead role in the region until President-elect Barack Obama takes office, Sarkozy finds himself with a rare opportunity to wade into a Middle East crisis as the main diplomatic player.
Sarkozy's recent rapprochement with Syria, the regional player with the most influence over Hamas, means that the French President may have more diplomatic leverage than many of his Western counterparts.
Whether Sarkozy’s prominence on the international scene endures once Obama takes office is another question. Yves Thréard at Le Figaro speculates not so much (translated partly by Time, partly by me):
Nicolas Sarkozy uses his energy and good faith to change the world — and that has had its chance as an alternative to the universally rejected Bush doctrine. But Obama taking command will alter that equation, and risks crowding [Sarkozy] out.Sarkozy’s fall in international stature is inevitable even without Obama taking office, now that his six month turn at the helm of the EU was transferred to the Czech Republic on January 1. The Czech leadership and others in Europe are not comfortable with Sarkozy constantly overshadowing and crowding them out, and want the world to remember that the EU is 27 countries strong, not 26 countries following Sarkozy’s trail of baguette crumbs.
In the Middle East, the United States remains the masters of the game.
How was Sarkozy’s performance as EU President? Controversial. While many in Europe praise him for strong leadership and raising the EU’s profile during his six-month tenure, the Washington Post produced a scathing editorial, particularly criticizing Sarkozy’s specious (read: lily-livered) approach to Russia:
Most troubling, Mr. Sarkozy repeatedly showed weakness in handling Russia. After Moscow launched an invasion of Georgia in August, the E.U. president rushed to Moscow, filling a vacuum left by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But the loophole-ridden cease-fire he negotiated allowed Russian troops to remain in Georgian territory, where they have established a Cold War-style frontier. Mr. Sarkozy led the European Union in resolving that negotiations with Russia would be suspended until its forces withdrew to their prewar positions. But just weeks later he pushed for the contacts to be resumed even though that condition had not been met. He pandered to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a later meeting, declaring (in contravention of France's official position) that U.S. missile defense would "bring nothing to European security" and endorsing a Russian plan for a summit on European security.And in a slightly surprising bit of news, outgoing NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer believes there could be support among NATO members to deploy a NATO force to the Middle East should a major peace deal one day be actualized. Because NATO has so many extra expeditionary forces lying around.