France hosted an international humanitarian conference for Gaza on Nov. 9, as it seeks to coordinate aid for the besieged Palestinian enclave and call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. However, the initiative also exposes France’s delicate balancing act in the Middle East, where it has to navigate between its support for Israel, its sympathy for the Palestinian cause, and its strained relations with the United States.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron has said that “all lives have equal worth” and that fighting terrorism “can never be carried out without rules”. He has urged Israel to protect civilians and respect international humanitarian law, and has called for a “rapid and lasting” ceasefire.
France hopes that the conference, which will bring together key regional and international stakeholders, will help mobilize financial and material resources for Gaza and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid through sea and land crossings. France is also sending two helicopter carriers off the coast of Gaza to provide medical assistance to the wounded.
However, the conference also risks alienating Israel, which was not invited to participate, and the United States, which has been largely absent from the diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. France has been at odds with the US over its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, its criticism of NATO, and its opposition to Turkey’s intervention in Syria. France has also been accused by some Israeli officials of being biased towards the Palestinians, and of ignoring Israel’s security concerns and Hamas’s role in the violence.
France’s Gaza aid conference is therefore a test of its diplomatic clout and its ability to balance its interests and values in the Middle East, where it faces multiple challenges and contradictions.