Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Two EU states break ranks on Jerusalem

Two EU states have broken ranks on the US decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The moves, by the Czech Republic and Hungary, made it harder for the EU to claim it had a single position, even though the biggest member states - France, Germany, Italy, and the UK - stuck to the same line in opposing US president Donald Trump's decision.

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  • Mogherini said Trump move could bring back violence (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Hungary blocked an EU statement on Wednesday (6 December) that was to have voiced "serious concern", diplomatic sources said.

The EU statement was to have been issued on behalf of all 28 member states, but due to Hungary's opposition it was downgraded to a statement by EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini only.

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic issued its own statement on Wednesday, which said it "recognises Jerusalem to be in practice the capital of Israel".

The Czech foreign ministry said its recognition covered only West Jerusalem "in the borders of the demarcation line from 1967", but not East Jerusalem, which contains the city's holy sites and which Israel is meant to share with Palestine according to the EU and UN.

"The ministry can start considering moving of the Czech embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem only based on results of negotiations with key partners in the region," it added.

The Czech president, Milos Zeman, further blurred the EU line in remarks on Czech TV on Thursday.

"It [Trump's decision] makes me truly happy … we may, sooner or later, follow the United States," in moving the Czech embassy he said.

Zeman spoke after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted on Wednesday that some pro-Israeli EU states were preparing to follow the US.

"We are already in contact with other countries which will issue a similar recognition [to Trump's]," Netanyahu said at a conference in Israel.

If Israeli diplomacy succeeds in persuading Budapest or Prague to match Trump, it would be its second snub to Mogherini in recent times.

Netanyahu is to meet with EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

He decided to come on the basis of an old Lithuanian invitation, diplomats said. His plan was to talk to EU ministers about Iran at a breakfast in Lithuania's embassy before the ministers held a regular meeting under Mogherini's chairmanship.

When Israel leaked news of the initiative to Israeli newspaper Haaretz last week, Israeli diplomats gloated that Mogherini had learnt of it from media.

Dark times

Mogherini spoke out at an impromptu press briefing in Brussels on Thursday.

Using more strident terms than her official statement of "serious concern", she said Trump's decision had "the potential to bring us back to even darker times than the ones we're already living in".

She thanked him for having promised that the status quo of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim holy sites would remain unchanged.

But she said his embassy move could "diminish" the role of the US in the Middle East peace process and cause "confusion" in international diplomacy.

Mogherini claimed that all EU states were in full agreement.

"This is the consolidated European Union position that has always been built on the common position of member states", she said.

She said "all" 28 foreign ministers had taken the same line when they met US secretary of state Rex Tillerson in Brussels on Tuesday.

She added that Netanyahu's "informal breakfast" would now be held in the EU Council building under her stewardship instead of in Lithuania's premises.

She also said it would be devoted to the Jerusalem crisis, not Iran, as the Israeli leader had intended.

Netanyahu breakfast

"The question of Jerusalem will occupy the whole hour we have at our disposal," she said.

Mogherini's reference to "darker days" came after Hamas, a militant Palestinian group, called for an intifada, or uprising, in reaction to the US move.

The last one, 12 years ago, cost the lives of 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis.

France, Italy, Sweden, and the UK were among eight UN Security Council members to call for a meeting on the crisis in New York on Friday.

A handful of left-wing, liberal, and Green MEPs also protested in an ad to be published in Haaretz the same day.

The ad, seen by EUobserver, was in the form of a mock EU invoice asking Israel to pay €1.2 million - the value of the more than 400 EU-funded structures, such as schools and water sanitation facilities, which Israel has demolished in occupied Palestinian territories since Netanyahu came to power in 2009.

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