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      France Too Preoccupied With Itself And Europe To Get Excited

      As the economy worsens in France and the popularity of its leaders sink, Netanyahu visit becomes a sideshow.
      By Amiel Ungar
      First Publish: 11/2/2012, 3:40 AM

      Bibi Francois Show
      Bibi Francois Show
      Reuters

      The visit to France by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concluded with a somber memorial to the Jewish victims of the murders at the Otzar Hatorah school last March.

      Publicly, the only disagreement between the Israeli Prime Minister and French President Francois Hollande was over at the former's call for French Jews to come to Israel, while the French president emphasized that their place was in France. Of course there was the ritualistic criticism of Jewish settlements.

      There was, however, little of the drama that has characterized Franco-Israeli relations in the past. When Ariel Sharon called upon French Jews to emigrate to Israel, it caused a firestorm; presently, it caused hardly a ripple. Netanyahu's offer to have France host negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was reported by the quality press without a great deal of excitement.

      Even after the French Communist Party journal L'Humanite announced that many associations and political parties had appealed for demonstrations to denounce French policy in the Middle East - and first and foremost the invitation to Netanyahu - the turnouts resembled similar demonstrations in Israel by the left, with more sponsoring organizations than demonstrators.

      They did their best, shouting "The state of Israel is a criminal state, Hollande is complicit" and "Zionist racists, it's you who are the terrorists."

      The plain truth of the matter is that France and its government are both too preoccupied with domestic and European issues to get excited over the Middle East.

      President Hollande and his Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault have again dramatically dropped in popularity last month--the former by 5%, standing at 36% and the latter by 7%, standing at 34%.

      The French president has pleased no one economically. The left believed that he would go easy on austerity, but he's still pushing to cut the deficit to 3% of GDP to meet EU requirements. Conservatives are aghast at the taxes on business that they argue act as a dead weight on growth.

      This week, the Prime Minister committed an embarrassing U-turn when he claimed that the 35 hour workweek - the hallmark of socialist legislation in the previous government that they headed (1997-2002) - was not sacrosanct and could be lengthened. After a few irate phone calls from union leaders, Ayrault beat a retreat.

      As the popularity of the president and prime minister fades, the polls have speculated on the politicians who would have an influential role on the country's future.

      The main candidates were Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who declared himself a social Democrat, putting him at the right pole of the current socialist government, ex-Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who is campaigning to become the leader of the center-right UMP and the man whom Hollande defeated in June --former president Nicolas Sarkozy.