Macron is charting his own course in the Gaza war

Emmanuel Macron abandons the common European line that does not envisage a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. He questions Israel's war objective. Why does it do that?

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Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate
Macron at the COP28 conference in Dubai, Photo: REUTERS
Macron at the COP28 conference in Dubai, Photo: REUTERS

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

His proposals, however, did not make a big impression. Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel, and the Israeli military has extended its advance on Hamas positions all along the Gaza Strip. Hamas is still holding hostages, and according to the United Nations, the situation of the civilian population in Gaza is catastrophic.

Macron doubts that Hamas can be destroyed

Emmanuel Macron also publicly questioned Israel's war aims for the first time. "What does the complete destruction of Hamas mean and does anyone believe that it is possible?" And if it is possible, then the war would last ten years," said the French president in Dubai.

An indirect answer from Jerusalem arrived immediately. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said continuing the ground offensive in Gaza was the only way to "completely defeat" Hamas. "We will continue to pursue all our war goals," Netanyahu announced on Israeli television.

In Dubai, President Macron demanded that Israel's leadership "should be more precise about its intentions and the ultimate goal it is aiming for." The Israeli prime minister's security adviser spoke vaguely over the weekend about "security zones" that should be set up in the Gaza Strip on the border with Israel. This should prevent terrorists from crossing the border again.

There are no plans for a complete occupation of the Gaza Strip and for it to be administered by Israel. It is unclear who will take over that task after the war ends. The terrorist leadership of Hamas has made it clear that the war will now continue until a cease-fire is agreed. Until then, releasing the hostages is out of the question.

Deviation from the path of the European Union

With his comments, the French president deviates from the official, common position of the European Union, which was agreed upon at the last summit at the end of October. Heads of state and government then called for short "breaks" in the fighting in order to free the hostages and provide supplies for the population. There was no talk of a ceasefire, because they did not want to put too much pressure on Israel.

In addition to France, Spain and Belgium show more understanding of the Palestinians' concerns - more so than Germany, for example, which clearly supports Israel's actions. The EU's common position on the Middle East conflict will be discussed again at the next EU summit next week.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz does not agree with Macron at all. Back on November 12, at a discussion in Heilbronn, he said: "But I'm happy to say that I don't think the correct demand that some are making is for an immediate ceasefire or a long pause, which is essentially the same thing." And then , also thinking that France, Scholz went on to say that the ceasefire ultimately means “that Israel should let Hamas recover and buy new rockets again, so they can fire them again. That is unacceptable."

Equal distance on both sides?

It seems that Emmanuel Macron is currently trying to maintain an equal distance from both Israel and the Palestinians, and to reposition France somewhere in the middle, much like French President Charles de Gaulle did after the Six Day War in 1967. Israel then defeated Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and took control of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai.

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

However, after the Israeli army began mass bombing the Gaza Strip and more and more Palestinian civilians were killed, Macron's attitude changed. In an unusually sharp interview with the BBC on November 10, the French president accused Israel of bombing civilians. For that, he said, there is no justification or legitimacy.

The Israeli government reacted angrily, and Macron later retorted and said that his statements in the interview had been misunderstood. And he did not call on Israel to unilaterally cease fire. This was followed by a telephone conversation with Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog with the aim of settling the dispute.

Emmanuel Macron wants to prevent the Middle East conflict from spreading to society in France. He announced this in a TV address. There is a very large Jewish community and an even larger Muslim community living in that country. The Islamist-motivated deadly attack on passers-by in Paris this Saturday, December 2, was the second since the start of the war between Hamas and Israel. The danger that Macron mentions is real.

Back and forth

The French "Figaro" compares Macron's foreign policy activities to a whirlwind. His posture is reminiscent of wild jumping back and forth, it changes quickly, it is unstable and therefore confusing, assesses the paper. According to observers, Macron's practiced political recipe is to talk a lot, and then to say something surprising, to make some unusual suggestions.

This has sometimes worked in European or internal politics, but it does not necessarily work in foreign politics, says Agnes Levaloa, vice president of the Paris-based Research Institute for the Mediterranean and the Middle East. "Everything depends on the message the French president wants to send, but I think there is confusion in the message he is sending," Levaloa told Radio Fransinfo in late October. In other words, it is not clear what his position is.

Macron is not alone

This weekend, Emanuel received the support of the US in pushing for a ceasefire and sparing the civilian population. US Vice President Kamala Harris also said at the climate conference in Dubai attended by Macron that too many innocent Palestinians were killed. "Honestly, the level of suffering, the photos and the videos coming out of Gaza — it's just devastating," Harris said.

And US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at an event in California that Israel has a moral obligation to protect the civilian population. His experience in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq showed him, he said, that the population must be protected, even in urban warfare. "Otherwise, 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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