What an impressive figure the President of France has cut over the last few days. Diplomatically, he seized the day. With America stuck in its routine echo of the Israeli Government line, the contribution of Nicolas Sarkozy could well engineer a turning point in this disastrous conflict. In Damascus, Tel Aviv, and now Cairo, he has been able to begin to construct the basis of a deal. The involvement of Egypt is particularly critical. And it has all been done at a furious pace.
Compared with the sulking and pompous Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy has brought a dynamism to the negotiation process. If he engineers a cease-fire that holds- on the basis of an Egyptian border that is more strictly policed and controlled, the ceasing of Hamas firing rockets into Israel, and a process of rebuilding Fatah and Hamas relations with a view to ending the blockade- that achievement will usher in a new phase of French international activism.
Ultimately, that will repair any vestiges of mutual suspicion between France and the US that emerged during the Iraq War. The relationship between Presidents Sarkozy and Obama could be one of the more interesting and productive ones in world affairs. It would be disastrous if that became a means of France and US mutually supporting each other's protectionism. It could be highly effective if it was focused on contributing to global security.
President Sarkozy's actions in the last few days will give him a head start on President Obama when it comes to the Middle East. Obama's approach in the Middle East will initially demonstrate continuity with that of the Bush administration with the main differences being in nuance and style. Over time that will change but it is likely that the new President will take his time. As his approach evolves, and that is what it will do, the influence of President Sarkozy could be significant. On the evidence of the last few days, that is a good thing.
Post script: Details of the French-Egyptian ceasefire proposals are beginning to emerge. The principles have been accepted by Israel and the Palestinian Authority according to President Sarkozy.