After years of implementing harsh neoliberal policies at home and waging bloody and futile wars abroad, they will leave office a few months apart with pitifully meager achievements to their names.
If Hollande’s reign is followed by the far-right nightmare of a Front National presidency, that will be part of the outgoing French leader’s legacy for his country too.
In perhaps no area has the failure of these two men been more abject and complete than in their supposed efforts to bring about the so-called two-state solution.
They both took a similar approach: claiming to oppose Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank while in practice providing Israel with every protection and assistance to pursue its occupation and violent colonization with impunity.
Obama’s record is long and well-established; it has been capped with his commitment to unconditionally supply Israel with $38 billion in American weapons over the next decade – the biggest military aid package to any country in history.
As the veteran French journalist Alain Gresh notes, Hollande has followed much the same path.
The French president even told Benjamin Netanyahu during a cozy dinner at the Israeli prime minister’s home in 2013 that he wished he had the musical talents to sing “a love song for Israel and its leaders” – an act of self-abasement immortalized on video:
Though France cannot afford the extravagant military aid provided by Obama, Hollande would not allow himself to be outdone in his anti-Palestinian fervor in any other way.
As Gresh recalls, Hollande’s government went as far as banning Palestine solidarity rallies during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza that left more than 2,200 Palestinians, among them more than 550 children, dead.
The Hollande administration’s prosecutions and denunciations of citizens who advocate for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to hold Israel accountable have made France one of the most repressive countries in the world against the Palestine solidarity movement.
“What is striking,” Gresh notes, “is the double-speak of France, which proclaims its support for international law, while reinforcing bilateral relations with Israel, as if that country was not in permanent violation of international law.”
Gresh cites a potent example: in November, for the first time, Israeli warplanes carried out exercises with the French air force in the skies over Corsica – a possible precursor to joint military operations around the world.
“A last slap”
In both cases, the result of this outpouring of aid and affection has been the same: Hollande and Obama will leave office with Israel hurling insults as they go.
Gresh calls Netanyahu’s enraged reaction to the “conference for peace in the Middle East” that the French president hosted in Paris on Sunday, “a last slap at François Hollande, who will no doubt turn the other cheek.”
Before the conference – attended by representatives of some 70 countries, but no Israelis or Palestinians – had even begun, Netanyahu declared it “futile.”
“These are the death throes of yesterday’s world. Tomorrow will look different,” Netanyahu added in apparent enthusiastic anticipation of Trump entering the White House on Friday.
Trump’s representatives also reportedly condemned the conference – and the British government, ever eager to ingratiate itself with an incoming American president, stayed away.
Other Israeli ministers have been even more scathing. Defense minister Avigdor Lieberman previously compared the conference to the Dreyfus Affair, the notorious 19th century persecution of a French military officer that is seen as a seminal example of modern European anti-Semitism.
Two competing racist visions
If, as the record shows, Hollande and Obama have been among the most pro-Israel Western leaders in history, what explains Israel’s limitless rage?
The answer is simple. Obama and Hollande, on the one hand, and Netanyahu and Trump, on the other, represent two competing pro-Israel visions.
As I’ve noted previously, Netanyahu represents an unabashedly racist Israel which is no longer interested in claiming that it wants peace nor that it is willing to give the Palestinians their rights under any conditions.
The countries represented at the Paris conference are equally committed to Israel’s right to continue to be racist, but they believe this can only be guaranteed if some bantustan option remains open to the Palestinians.
Just like the UN resolution that was passed with much fanfare in December, and the speech days later by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the Paris meeting aimed to resurrect this bantustan option – the two-state solution.
But the conference’s final declaration confirms the sterility of the approach.
While it reaffirms – as it must and should – the illegality of Israel’s settlements on occupied land, it also relentlessly reinforces the false equivalence between occupier and occupied as equally responsible for the absence of “peace.”
It calls for “meaningful direct negotiations” in a context of a radical imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians – a strategy whose failure has been conclusively proven to all but the most stubborn and delusional by more than two decades of the so-called peace process.
The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz observed that the final product was “less harsh” – presumably to Israel – than a draft that had been leaked earlier in the week.
Like December’s UN Security Council Resolution 2334, the Paris declaration threatens no consequences if Israel does not end its colonization and violent oppression of millions of Palestinians.
Kerry even spoke to Netanyahu the day of the conference to reassure him that it would lead to no further action at the UN or in any other international forum.
And the final declaration’s panicky insistence that “both sides officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution, thus disassociating themselves from voices that reject this solution” will not suppress the growing support for a one-state solution as the most realistic path to justice and peace in all of historic Palestine.
Nothing that happened in Paris should change this basic conclusion: Israel, like its kindred apartheid regime in South Africa a generation ago, must be pressured and isolated until it is compelled to change.
All the conference amounted to, then, was President François Hollande’s final love song for Israel.