Monday

25th Mar 2019

Israel presses Jerusalem claim in EU capital

  • Mogherini: 'I'm very glad you accepted to join us' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Israel has said Palestine and the EU must accept that Jerusalem is its capital, for peace in the Middle East.

Its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, enforced the claim in Brussels on Monday (11 December) before meeting with EU foreign ministers.

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  • Mogherini and Netanyahu in Brussels on Moday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

He said the US would shortly unveil plans for new peace talks with Palestinians, but that these would only bear fruit if Palestine gave up on having a shared capital in the city.

"It is time the Palestinians recognised that there's a Jewish state and that it has a capital - it's called Jerusalem," he said.

Netanyahu said any EU minister who visited the city and saw Israel's government buildings would have no doubt who it belonged to.

"Peace is based on reality and the fact that Jerusalem is Israel's capital is clearly evident to all of you", he said.

The Israeli prime minister invoked ancient history and the Holocaust.

"For 3,000 years Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people, from the time established by King David … and in the aftermath, when Jews in the ghettoes of Europe whispered: 'Next year in Jerusalem. Next year in Jerusalem'," he said.

He spoke after US president Donald Trump unilaterally recognised Israel's claim and said he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv.

"What will happen in the future, I believe, is that all or most of the European countries will move their embassies to Jerusalem," Netanyahu added.

EU green line

Israel's claim flies in the face of EU and UN positions that say East Jerusalem, which Israel conquered in 1967, should be shared with Palestine.

Alan Duncan, the British minister for EU affairs, pledged to confront Netanyahu on Monday.

"We will be quite clear we don't agree that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel", he said.

"Jerusalem is divided between East and West, and East Jerusalem is most certainly not part of Israel," he said.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said: "We've been waiting already for several months for the American initiative, and if one is not forthcoming then the European Union will have to take the initiative."

He said France had "marked its disagreement" with Trump. "It's also the position of the EU … Jerusalem as capital of both states," he said.

Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign affairs chief, also gave Netanyahu a frosty welcome.

"You know where we stand … Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine," she said.

She nodded to the fact that Netanyahu had in effect invited himself to the EU capital.

The Israeli prime minister's visit, the first of its type in 22 years, came about when he suddenly told Lithuania he would take it up on an old invitation to come.

"You had an open invitation and I'm very glad you accepted to join us," Mogherini said.

"I thank you for this invitation and also the government of Lithuania," he replied.

Netanyahu was also due to meet European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday, but the Commission cancelled this saying that flight problems meant the Israeli leader would have to go home earlier than expected.

For some, the events were an opportunity for the EU to play a bigger part in the peace process.

New role?

Didier Reynders, the Belgian foreign minister, said "today maybe the beginning of a real dialogue and of a more important role for the European Union in such a dialogue".

He said the EU would urge Netanyahu to end "colonisation" of occupied land and of demolitions of EU-funded humanitarian projects.

He also said the EU would hold talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in January.

Mogherini condemned "in the strongest possible way" any attacks on Jewish people in Europe, on Israel, or on Israeli citizens in reaction to the Jerusalem crisis.

Netanyahu, in his speech on Monday, also said Israeli intelligence had "prevented dozens of terrorist attacks, many of them on European soil".

He invoked the threat of "many, many, many millions" of Muslims being "driven" to the EU by Middle East conflicts if Israel were not there to defend it.

"The greatest threat facing Europe is the flow of people who are escaping battle-torn areas in the Middle East ... Israel is the strongest power in the Middle East that is stopping the advance of militant Islam," he said.

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