Sarkozy pledges “friendship” to Netanyahu after gaffe


French President Nicolas Sarkozy has written to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reaffirm friendship despite what he refers to as their “differing views on the Middle East,” Israeli officials said on Monday.

Sarkozy’s comments, in a condolence message to Netanyahu for the death of his father-in-law, seemed an effort to try to clear the air a week after a reported gaffe this month at the G20 summit in Cannes, when he was overheard telling U.S. President Barack Obama he thought Netanyahu was “a liar”.

In addition to words of sympathy, Sarkozy’s letter to Netanyahu, according to two officials in the Israeli leader’s office, said:
“You have my friendship, and our differing views on the problems of the Middle East, and the interpretations appearing in the media, have no effect on it.”

Reports last week said Sarkozy had told Obama, unaware that they were being overhead by journalists listening to the simultaneous translation of their November 3 meeting: “I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar.”

According to the French interpreter, Obama replied: “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more than you.”

Obama also sent condolences for the death of Shmuel Ben-Artzi, father of Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, who died a week ago in Jerusalem. Obama’s message made no mention of the remarks made in Cannes.

Obama and Netanyahu have had a rocky relationship but Obama was seen as eager to avoid any open confrontation with Israel ahead of a campaign for reelection next year for which he will need votes from Jewish voters.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the two of you,” he wrote, according to the Israeli officials.

Netanyahu had made no comment on Sarkozy’s comments which came at a time Israel’s ties with Paris had otherwise vastly improved after decades of tensions over France’s close alliances with Arab countries.

Differences between Israel and much of Europe have surfaced anew though as a Quartet of Middle East power brokers comprised of the European Union, United States, Russia and United Nations have sought unsuccessfully so far, to renew moribund peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

European diplomats have blamed Israel for the breakdown in talks last year over Jewish settlement building in West Bank territory Palestinians seek for a state.

France also angered both Israel and the U.S. last month by voting in favour of a Palestinian request for membership in the U.N. cultural heritage agency UNESCO last month, appearing to boost a Palestinian bid for recognition of their state.

Sarkozy has since then pledged France would not take any unilateral decisions when the U.N. Security Council takes up the Palestinians membership request this month.