A lot of eyes are on French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s official visit to Israel on Sunday. This editorial from Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz says it’s rare for a European leader to get the warm welcome that’s been prepared for Sarkozy – one of France’s most pro-Israel leaders in recent years. However, according to this piece, Sarkozy’s love for Israel is not backed up by a coherent Middle East policy; there are gaps in what he says and what he does. For example, while he backs a strong human rights platform, there was a controversial visit to Paris by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi late last year; while France has made positive efforts in Lebanon, it has been weak on UN resolutions to disarm Hezbollah; while Hamas is viewed as a “terrorist organisation”, France still sent a retired senior diplomat to Gaza for talks with Hamas in April. The editorial concludes that “Sarkozy’s France can play the role of global superpower”, but more courage and clarity are needed to assume a complex diplomacy role in the Middle East.
Israel has been upping its diplomatic drives across the region. Cynics say it’s a smokescreen for Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and his current legal troubles; others say it’s to divert attention from a bogged down Middle East peace process. In any case, it’s clear Israel is in its most unprecedented diplomatic upheaval of recent years: it’s back in negotiations with Syria after seven-year break, there’s been an offer of dialogue with Lebanon and also indirect negotiations with Hezbollah to free two Israeli solders kidnapped in 2006. But this French paper’s Jerusalem correspondent says problems remain: Israel has recently been questioned on its rejection of the 2002 Saudi peace initiative, and there have been reports of Israel conducting military training exercises for a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear installations.
Faced with dwindling congregation numbers, the Protestant Church of Geneva has opened a “spiritual hotline” as a new way to reach out to people. The toll-free line receives all sorts of inquiries. Practical questions often end up leading to deeper discussions.
In the latest upset at the Euro 2008, Russia eliminates Holland 3-1 in the quarter-finals. This Dutch paper publishes a gallery of orange supporters who came out to cheer for Holland, the favourites going into the match. There was a twist to the defeat: the coach for the winning Russian team was none other than Dutchman Guss Hiddink, known for taking underdog teams like South Korea and Australia to high places. And Hiddink has done it again, this time for Russia but to the detriment of his homeland team, much to the dismay of Dutch team coach, Marco van Basten, the Dutch players and their fans.