EU rebuffs Netanyahu call on Jerusalem

BRUSSELS – The EU’s diplomatic chief Monday bluntly rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suggestion that Europe would follow the US in recognising Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital, saying there would be no change to its stance on the holy city.

Netanyahu said the controversial announcement by US President Donald Trump – which prompted diplomatic alarm and street protests across the Islamic world – had “put facts squarely on the table”.

As he arrived for talks in Brussels, Netanyahu said he expected “all or most” European countries would follow the US – but the 28-nation bloc’s foreign policy head Federica Mogherini gave him a stern rebuff, telling him to “keep his expectations for others”.

The EU expressed alarm last week at the US decision, but Netanyahu said Trump had simply stated facts by acknowledging that Jerusalem had been the capital of the Israeli state for 70 years and of the Jewish people for 3,000 years.

“It doesn’t obviate peace, it makes peace possible, because recognising reality is the substance of peace, it’s the foundation of peace,” Netanyahu said in a statement alongside Mogherini ahead of a breakfast meeting with EU foreign ministers. “I believe that all or most of the European countries will move their embassies to Jerusalem, recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and engage robustly with us for security, prosperity and peace,” Netanyahu said.

After nearly two hours of talks between Netanyahu and the EU ministers, Mogherini gave a flat rejection of his suggestion they could follow Trump. “He can keep his expectations for others, because from the European Union member states’ side this move will not come,” she said, adding that the bloc – 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 the capital of both and the borders returned to their status before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. And she pledged to step up efforts with the two sides and regional partners including Jordan and Egypt to relaunch the peace process.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has been working with a small team to develop a new US proposal to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but it is not clear what progress he is making.

Mogherini indicated that US efforts appeared to be at a very early stage, saying “both horizon and framework” – the end goal and how to get there – had still not be clearly defined. And she warned Washington to have no illusions “that a United States initiative alone would be successful”, saying regional and international support would be essential to peace talks.

A fifth day of angry protests held in the Middle East on Monday. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday that Trump’s decision threw “fuel on the fire” of Middle Eastern tensions and would not be tolerated. A protest was being organised in the afternoon in front of a US cultural centre in east Jerusalem, while another was planned for Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. In Ramallah on Monday, dozens of Palestinians threw stones at Israeli soldiers in the latest such clash.

Palestinian demonstrations have declined in number and intensity since reaching a peak on Friday, but there are concerns they will again increase later this week. Four Palestinians have so far been killed in clashes or Israeli air strikes in response to rocket fire from Gaza, while hundreds have been wounded. Tens of thousands have also demonstrated in a range of Middle Eastern and Muslim nations.

Abbas was in Egypt on Monday to hold talks with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – a key US ally in the region – ahead of a summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the main pan-Islamic body, on Wednesday. “Our message to the entire world is that Jerusalem is a Palestinian city and the US decision is rejected and denounced,” Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said, quoted by official news agency WAFA. “What is required now are bold Palestinian and Arab decisions for the coming stage, which is very important and very critical. The Palestinians and Arabs should stand together.”

Trump’s Jerusalem declaration upended decades of precedent and broke with international consensus, drawing global condemnation. Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the most sensitive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Many analysts have questioned how a fair peace process could be possible with such a major concession without seeming to demand anything in return. Jerusalem is also home to sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, and the Arab and Muslim world has seen it as an afront.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been perhaps the most outspoken in warning over the consequences of the move, while on Sunday he lashed out by calling Israel a “terrorist state” that “kills children”.

Erdogan agin warned the United States on Monday it was a “partner to bloodshed” after Trump’s decision sparked violence. Erdogan bitterly opposes Trump’s decision and has sought to mobilise the Muslim world against it, calling a summit of Islamic countries on December 13 in Istanbul.

“They will never be able to clean the blood,” he said in a speech in Ankara. “With this recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it (the United States) has become a partner to this bloodshed. We do not recognise this decision, we will not,” he added.

Erdogan said that the current “vandalism and cruelty” in Jerusalem would not last. “Those who think they own Jerusalem today will not find trees to hide behind,” he said.

He said Wednesday’s summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul would be a “turning point” on the issue. Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had traded verbal blows at the weekend, with the Turkish leader describing Israel as a “terrorist state” that kills children.

Hours later Netanyahu hit back, calling his counterpart a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers and supports terrorists, during an official visit to Paris.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Monday for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to resume, including on Jerusalem. Speaking on state television during a visit to Egypt, Putin stressed the importance of “the immediate resumption of Palestinian-Israeli talks over all disputed issues, including the status of Jerusalem”.

Speedy, long-term agreements “that are aligned with the interests of both sides” must be made, Putin said, according to an official translation of his remarks on Egyptian state television. “These agreements must be in harmony with previous decisions of the international community,” said Putin, adding that “Russia fully supports previous Security Council resolutions”.

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