French President Nicolas Sarkozy has told his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres that he is disappointed with Benjamin Netanyahu and finds it hard to understand the prime minister's diplomatic plan. Sarkozy made his comments at the Elysee Palace two weeks ago.
The latest criticism follows the diplomatic crisis between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama and the subsequent fallout between Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
High-level Israeli officials briefed on the Peres-Sarkozy meeting called it "very difficult". The officials, who asked to remain anonymous, said Sarkozy began criticizing Netanyahu at the start of the discussion and continued for around 15 minutes.
Sarkozy's remarks were only slightly more measured than the condemnation he expressed over Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman last summer. "You must get rid of that man," Sarkozy told Netanyahu at the time.
Sarkozy met with Obama the week before in Washington; the effect of the encounter was evident in the French leader's discussion with Peres. Sarkozy expressed frustration at the continuing stagnation of the peace process and assigned much of the responsibility to Netanyahu.
"I'm disappointed with him," he reportedly told Peres. "With the friendship, sympathy and commitment we have toward Israel, we still can't accept this foot-dragging. I don't understand where Netanyahu is going or what he wants."
After listening to his host's remarks in full, Peres reportedly replied: "I'm aware that trust between Israel and the Palestinians has been undermined, but Israel has reached out its hand in peace and adopted the two-state principle, and Israel is working to strengthen and develop the Palestinian economy. There is no alternative to returning to the negotiating table as soon as possible."
The Israeli officials described Sarkozy's remarks as part of a broader trend among Israel's European and American allies amid the lack of diplomatic progress in the region.
Amid the tension with the U.S. administration, even Israel's European allies have begun criticizing the Netanyahu administration. Merkel, widely viewed as one of Israel's most solid supporters in Europe, recently issued a public condemnation of Netanyahu and Israel's wider policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
Last month Merkel accused Netanyahu of distorting the nature of a telephone discussion they had had following the uproar over Israel's authorization of construction in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.
Meanwhile, Italian diplomats have said Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's unqualified support for Israel on the Palestinian issue has also begun to wane. "Netanyahu spoke with Berlusconi twice recently by phone, and each time said he would surprise him on the Palestinian issue, but this doesn't seem to be in the offing," one of the diplomats said.
In Washington, Obama continued to assert this week that his administration aims to push both parties back to the negotiating table. On Monday, he told a Washington summit of entrepreneurs from Muslim-majority countries that "So long as I am president, the United States will never waver in pursuit of a two-state solution that ensures the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians."
In an op-ed yesterday in the New York Times, Roger Cohen quoted U.S. special envoy George Mitchell as saying, "There has never been in the White House a president that is so committed on this issue."
He quoted Mitchell, who is currently visiting Israel, as saying: "I believe Netanyahu is serious, capable and interested in reaching an agreement. What I cannot say is if he is willing to agree to what is needed to secure an agreement."