Friday

22nd Mar 2019

EU gagged on 'fundamental' shift in Middle East

Three member states have gagged the EU on a "fundamental" shift in the Middle East - the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania vetoed an EU statement on Friday (11 May) ahead of the US embassy opening ceremony on Monday.

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"Israel and the US are key allies for the Czech Republic. Seventy years ago, Czechoslovakia helped Israel in its struggle for independence and 100 years ago, the US helped Czechoslovakia emerge", Jiri Ovcacek, a spokesman for Czech president Milos Zeman, said.

"The Czech Republic protested against the planned [EU] statement. We appreciate that Hungary and Romania have taken the same principled stance," Ovcacek told the AFP news agency.

That left the other 25 EU countries to issue individual communiques, while reducing the EU reaction to a tweet by its mission in Tel Aviv, which said: "EU & its member states will continue to respect the international consensus on Jerusalem … including on the location of their diplomatic representations until the final status of Jerusalem is resolved".

Austria joined the Czechs, Hungarians, and Romanians in also sending their envoys to the US opening ceremony on Monday, leaving 24 EU states in Europe's boycott of the event.

The US move goes in the teeth of EU policy - that Jerusalem should be the shared capital of Israel and Palestine in a negotiated, two-state solution.

It represents the first "fundamental shift" in the Middle East peace process in 25 years, EU ambassadors in Israel and Palestine have said.

The EU should send out an "unequivocal … common message" on non-recognition of the US move, the European ambassadors said in an internal report, seen by EUobserver, in December.

But Monday's EU foreign policy fiasco was already foreshadowed later that month, when six EU states - Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, and Romania - boycotted EU support for a UN resolution against the US embassy relocation.

US president Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner led the White House delegation to the Jerusalem opening ceremony.

"Move your embassies to Jerusalem because it's the right thing to do," Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told them and other foreign dignitaries at an event in the city on Sunday.

The US decision recognised the "truth" that "under any peace agreement you could possibly imagine, Jerusalem will remain Israel's capital", he said.

Reality

John Bolton, Trump's national security advisor, echoed the Israeli leader. "Recognising reality always enhances the chances for peace," he told US media network ABC.

That reality was being accelerated at a "record" pace by Israeli settlement expansion, "including in areas identified by the EU and its member states as [being] key to the two-state solution", the EU ambassadors' internal report warned.

Israel advanced 3,000 more housing units in East Jerusalem last year, the report said, adding to the 215,000 settlers who have moved there since Israel conquered it in 1967.

"We will pray for the boundless potential of the US-Israel alliance & we will pray for peace," Ivanka Trump said ahead of her visit.

But the US decision "ended, from our point of view, the role of the United States as the broker, the owner, of the peace process," Nabil Shaath, an advisor to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, said.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania's veto of the EU statement would have consequences for "their relationship with the Arab and Islamic worlds," the Palestinian Authority's (PA) foreign ministry said.

The PA's rival Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, has called for protests on the Gaza border, which have already claimed 42 lives since March, to come to a head on Monday.

EU logistics

The US move will see just its ambassador and his small staff relocating from Tel Aviv to an existing US consular compound in Arnona, a neighbourhood in south Jerusalem.

The rest of its 850 embassy workers will stay in Tel Aviv until a new US embassy is built in Jerusalem in a project to take years to complete.

But Monday's move poses the question whether EU VIPs who go to Israel in future will boycott the new US mission.

High-level EU visits to the city should "ensure that logistics follow EU policy", the EU ambassadors' report said, among other guidelines on how to handle Trump's latest affront to Europe's world view.  

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