Home » Macron is charting his own course in the war over Gaza – DW – December 4th, 2023

Macron is charting his own course in the war over Gaza – DW – December 4th, 2023

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Macron is charting his own course in the war over Gaza – DW – December 4th, 2023

French President Emmanuel Macron’s goal is to achieve a new ceasefire between the terrorist organization Hamas and the Israeli army, which should then lead to a longer-lasting ceasefire. This is how Macron put it at the weekend during a short visit to the COP28 world climate conference in Dubai. The French head of state said that during talks in Qatar he wanted to ensure that efforts to reach a ceasefire were intensified.

He didn’t make much of an impression with his suggestions. Hamas continues to fire rockets at Israel. The Israeli army has expanded its advance on Hamas positions across the Gaza Strip. Hamas continues to hold hostages captive. According to the United Nations, the situation of the civilian population in Gaza is catastrophic.

Compassion: On October 24th, Macron visited relatives of the Hamas hostages in Tel AvivImage: Christophe Ena/Pool/REUTERS

Macron doubts whether Hamas will be destroyed

Emmanuel Macron also publicly questioned Israel’s war aims for the first time. “What does total destruction of Hamas mean and does anyone believe that that is possible? Even if it were possible, the war would last ten years,” said France’s president in Dubai. The indirect answer from Jerusalem came promptly. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said continuing the ground offensive in Gaza was the only way to “totally defeat” Hamas. “We will continue to pursue all of our war goals,” Netanyahu emphasized on Israeli television.

Presidents Macron (right) and Abbas: Listening to the concerns of the Palestinians – despite everything (archive)Image: Christophe Ena/dpa/picture alliance

In Dubai, President Macron demanded that the Israeli leadership “be more precise about its intentions and the end goal it is striving for.” A security adviser to the Israeli prime minister spoke vaguely at the weekend about “safe zones” that should be set up on the territory of the Gaza Strip on the borders with Israel. This prevents terrorists from crossing the borders again. There are no plans for a complete occupation of the Gaza Strip and administration by Israel. It is unclear who will take on this task after the end of the war.

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The Hamas terrorist leadership made it clear that the war would continue until a ceasefire was reached. Until then, the release of hostages is out of the question.

Off the EU path

With his comments, the French president departs from the European Union’s official common position, which was agreed upon at the last summit at the end of October. The heads of state and government called for short “ceasefires” to free hostages and provide supplies for the population. There was no talk of a ceasefire because they didn’t want to put too much pressure on Israel.

In addition to France, Spain and Belgium also show more understanding for the concerns of the Palestinians than Germany, for example, which clearly supports Israel’s actions. At the next EU summit next week, the Union’s common stance in the Middle East conflict will be discussed again.

EU Council President Michel, Chancellor Scholz: A permanent ceasefire would not be wiseImage: Fabrizio Bensch/REUTERS

Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, strongly disagrees with Macron. He already said at a discussion event on November 12th in Heilbronn: “But I am happy to admit that I don’t think the demand that some are making for an immediate ceasefire or a long break – which is basically the same thing – is right.” Also with a view to France, Scholz continued that a ceasefire ultimately means “that Israel should let Hamas recover and buy new rockets again. So that they can then fire again. They will not be able to accept that.”

Equal distance on both sides?

At the moment, Emmanuel Macron seems to be aiming for an equal distance from Israel and the Palestinians. French President Charles de Gaulle had already tried to position France in the middle after the Six-Day War of 1967. Israel defeated Egypt, Jordan and Syria and gained control of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai.

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Immediately after the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th, the French president stood in solidarity with Israel, without any ifs or buts. After all, France has also been the victim of Islamist attacks several times in recent years. The slaughter of innocent visitors to a music festival by Hamas terrorists reminded many French people of the terrorist attack at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in 2015. Macron traveled to Israel, albeit as the last representative of a major European democracy, and spoke there of an international coalition against terror.

France’s fear of terror and violence

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However, as the Israeli army’s massive bombardment of the Gaza Strip began and more and more Palestinian civilians died, Macron’s attitude changed. In an unusually harsh interview with the BBC on November 10, the president accused Israel of bombing civilians. There is no justification and no legitimacy for this. Israel’s government reacted indignantly. Macron backtracked and said the interview was misleading. He did not call on Israel to enter into a unilateral ceasefire. This was followed by a telephone conversation with Israeli President Isaac Herzog to resolve the dispute.

Emmanuel Macron wants to prevent the Middle East conflict from spreading to society in France. He announced it in a televised speech. There is a very large Jewish community and a much larger Muslim community living in the country. The Islamist-motivated assassination attempt on passers-by in Paris on Saturday was the second attack since the beginning of the war between Hamas and Israel. The danger that Macron invokes is real.

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Jumpy posture?

The French newspaper “Le Figaro” compares Macron’s foreign policy activities to a whirlwind. His posture jumps back and forth wildly, changes quickly, is unsteady and therefore confusing. Observers believe that Macron’s practiced political recipe is to talk a lot, to say something surprising and to make unusual suggestions.

Israel’s army advances against Hamas in the Gaza Strip: What is the aim of the war?Image: IDF/Xinhua/picture alliance

What sometimes works in European policy or domestic policy does not necessarily work in foreign policy, says Agnès Levallois, Vice President of the Research Institute for the Mediterranean and the Middle East, on the radio station Franceinfo. “It all depends on the message the French president wants to send, but I think there is confusion in the message he is sending.” It is not clear what his attitude is.

Macron is not alone

Emmanuel received support from the USA this weekend in his latest push for a ceasefire and a sparing of the civilian population. Also at the climate conference in Dubai, which Macron also attended, US Vice President Kamala Harris said that too many innocent Palestinians had been killed. “Frankly, the level of suffering, the images and videos coming out of Gaza, it’s just devastating,” Harris said.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned at an event in California that Israel has a moral obligation to protect its civilian population. His experience in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq showed him that the population must be protected even in urban warfare. “If you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you may achieve a tactical victory, but you will suffer a strategic defeat.”

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