Friday

24th Sep 2021

Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem

  • Israeli-occupied Jerusalem should be the shared capital in a two-state solution, both the EU and UN have said (Photo: Mohammad Usaid Abbasi)

Romania will move its embassy to Jerusalem, its prime minister has said, shattering the EU line on the Arab-Israeli conflict while the country holds the EU rotating presidency.

"I am pleased to announce today to the AIPAC audience that ... I, as prime minister of Romania, and the government that I run, will move our embassy to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel," Romanian leader Viorica Dancila told a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israeli lobby group in Washington on Sunday (24 March).

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Her announcement broke the joint EU and UN line that Israeli-occupied Jerusalem ought to be shared by Israel and Palestine in a future two-state solution.

It made Romania the first EU state to follow the example of US president Donald Trump, who moved America's embassy to Jerusalem last year.

And it did extra damage to EU policy because Romania currently holds the six-month EU chairmanship, in a role referenced in Dancila's speech.

Trump's "admirable and courageous step impressed me," Dancila said.

"I am determined to contribute to closer relations between Israel and the entire European Union, particularly now, when Romania is holding the presidency of the Council of the European Union," she added.

Dancila's embassy move was put in doubt by Romanian president Klaus Iohannis, who said on Sunday: "The final decision about moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem rests with me".

"The prime minister shows complete ignorance regarding foreign affairs," he added, in a sign of internal turmoil in Bucharest.

"Relocating the Romanian embassy to Jerusalem would represent a violation of the relevant international law", he said in an earlier declaration after Trump's move last year.

Such forced recognition of Jerusalem had "the potential to bring us back to even darker times than the ones we're already living in", EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also said at the time.

For his part, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Dancila's pledge.

"I congratulate my friend ... on her announcement at AIPAC that she would act to complete the procedures needed to open the Romanian embassy in Jerusalem," he said on Sunday.

But Palestinian leaders protested at news of the planned move.

"These moves are unilateral and illegal. They contribute to igniting the region to satisfy the Trump administration and the rising right in the world," Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said.

Romania and the US were guilty of "extremism at the expense of the rule of law," he added.

Broader EU split?

Mogherini, last April, had said that Jerusalem non-recognition was "the consolidated European Union position that has always been built on the common position of member states".

But Dancila's announcement highlighted a broader EU split on Middle East policy.

Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary are also opening lower-level diplomatic missions in Jerusalem in echoes of Trump's move.

Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, and Romania declined to join the rest of the EU in a UN statement criticising Trump's embassy move last year.

And Hungary has vetoed joint EU statements on Israel as well as internal EU discussion of Israel's occupation regime.

Israel conquered East Jerusalem in the Six-Day war against Arab states in 1967 in which it also occupied Palestine's Gaza and West Bank territories and Syria's Golan Heights region.

It later annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Its settlement expansion has since turned the West Bank into "an archipelago" of Palestinian "islands", which also bodes ill for the two-state solution, EU ambassadors said in an internal report last July, seen by EUobserver.

Trump rift widens

But Trump went further in the transatlantic split last week despite Europe's concerns.

"After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognise Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the state of Israel and regional stability", the US leader said last Thursday.

Donald Tusk, the EU Council president, told press the EU was sticking to Golan Heights non-recognition after an EU summit in Brussels the next day.

"The EU's position is well-known and has not changed," he said.

Russia, Syria's military sponsor, distanced itself from Trump's remarks. "It is just a call for now. Let's hope it will remain a call," Russian president Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said.

But Golan Heights recognition could be a gift to Russia in its war on Ukraine and another blow to EU foreign policy in the wider geopolitical theatre, some experts have warned.

Russia's real line "unspoken (for now) is: If America can recognise Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights as legitimate, why can't everybody do the same for our occupation of Crimea?", John R. Schindler, a US security analyst, wrote in a conservative American magazine, called the Spectator, on Friday.

The EU does not recognise Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine which took place five years ago on 18 March 2014.

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