It's hard to figure out whether the fact the Czech Republic replaced France as the president of the European Union on January 1 was a consideration in determining the timing of the Gaza operation. One way or another, the French president looks like someone incapable of forgiving Israel for not moving up the operation by two or three weeks.
The Czechs infuriate Nicolas Sarkozy, who will arrive today in Israel leading a delegation alongside a separate EU delegation led by Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. Not only did the Czech government's pro-American stance make it amenable to stationing an American anti-missile radar system on its soil; not only did Czech President Vaclav Klaus oppose the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon that aims to reform the European Union (prompting Sarkozy to propose that France retain some key EU presidential posts for six months). Now the Czechs display gall in expressing a pro-Israel stance, terming the Gaza operation "defensive", while other senior members of the union - especially France - were quick to condemn and demand a cease-fire.
It is no wonder that Sarkozy is having difficulty parting ways with the EU presidency. He fell in love with his image as a super-statesman who forced a cease-fire on Georgia (and on Condoleezza Rice), ending the war in the southern Caucasus last August. This agreement has yet to produce a withdrawal of Russian forces from the country. He is now determined to duplicate his success in Gaza. From his standpoint, this is a golden opportunity to shepherd a European policy in the twilight period between the Bush administration and the swearing in of Barack Obama.
In addition, his two main rivals in the EU are neutralized. Germany, because of its past, is incapable of fostering a diplomatic process that includes putting pressure on Israel. In Britain, a sense of missed opportunity is palpable. After its government invested money and effort in aiding the Palestinian economy and the regime of Mahmoud Abbas over the last two years - in addition to leading a number of diplomatic and economic initiatives against the settlements in recent months - the current crisis caught it off guard.
The British hoped to assume the role of Obama's main partner when the new president kicked off his Middle East diplomatic push, and now they have simply turned into sideline observers. Statements by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Minister David Miliband in response to the Gaza operation are seen as devoid of influence, and the voice of former prime minister Tony Blair, the Quartet's envoy to the Middle East, hasn't been heard since the start of the operation. Brown barely hid his frustration when he told The Observer newspaper in an interview that "Tony's on holiday at the moment."
Even the British media is losing interest in what is happening in Israel. London is indeed the setting for Europe's most stormy anti-Israel demonstrations - tens of thousands of Muslim and leftist protesters recently descended on Trafalgar Square - but the top headlines in the papers continued to revolve around the economic crisis.
France, which sees itself as the European Union's most senior member, is dissatisfied, to say the least, that a tiny, pro-American country is now assuming the stature it boasted until a week ago. The arrival of the two delegations to Jerusalem reflects these divisions.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now