EU tells Netanyahu it rejects US Jerusalem move

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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, in Brussels yesterday. AFP

BRUSSELS (Agencies) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his case to Europe to ask allies to join the United States in recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but was met by a firm rebuff from EU foreign ministers who saw the move as a blow against the peace process.

Making his first ever visit to EU headquarters in Brussels, Mr Netanyahu said President Donald Trump’s move made peace in the Middle East possible “because recognising reality is the substance of peace, the foundation of peace”.

Mr Trump announced last Wednesday that the US would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking with decades of US policy and international consensus that the ancient city’s status must be decided in Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it in a 1967 war, considers the entire city to be its capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.

The Trump administration says it remains committed to the peace process and its decision does not affect Jerusalem’s future borders or status. It says any credible future peace deal will place the Israeli capital in Jerusalem, and ditching old policies is needed to revive a peace process frozen since 2014.

But even Israel’s closest European allies have rejected that logic and say recognising Israel’s capital unilaterally risks inflaming violence and further wrecking the chance for peace.

After a breakfast meeting between Mr Netanyahu and EU foreign ministers, Sweden’s top diplomat said no European at the closed-door meeting had voiced support for Mr Trump’s decision, and no country was likely to follow the US in announcing plans to move
its embassy.

“I have a hard time seeing that any other country would do that and I don’t think any other EU country will do it,” Margot Wallstrom said.

The EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the EU – the Palestinians’ largest donor – would stick to the “international consensus” on Jerusalem. She reiterated the EU’s stance that “the only realistic solution” for peace is two states – Israel and Palestine – with Jerusalem as capital of both and the borders returned to their status before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Several EU foreign ministers arriving at the meeting reiterated the bloc’s position that lands Israel has occupied since the 1967 war – including East Jerusalem as well as the West Bank and Golan Heights, are not within Israel’s borders.

Israel’s position does appear to have more support from some EU states than others. Last week, the Czech foreign ministry said it would begin considering moving the Czech embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while Hungary blocked a planned EU statement condemning the US move. But Prague later said it accepted Israel’s sovereignty only over West Jerusalem, and Budapest said its long-term position seeking a two-state solution in the Middle East had not changed.

On Monday, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said of Mr Trump’s decision: “I’m afraid it can’t help us. I’m convinced that
it is impossible to ease tension with a unilateral solution…

We are talking about an Israeli state but at the same time we have to speak about a Palestinian state.”

Mr Trump’s announcement triggered days of protests across the Muslim world and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in which scores of Palestinians were wounded and several killed.

By yesterday morning the violence appeared to have subsided.

Mr Netanyahu, who has been angered by the EU’s search for closer business ties with Iran, said Europeans should emulate Mr Trump’s move and press the Palestinians to do so too.

“It’s time that the Palestinians recognise the Jewish state and also recognise the fact that it has a capital. It’s called Jerusalem,” he said.

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