EU, Arab League affirm Jerusalem must be joint capital

In talks between foreign ministers, both blocs agree that city’s ‘character’ must be preserved, after US announces it will relocate embassy in May

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, left, greets Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, after a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Europa building in Brussels, on February 26, 2018. (AP Photo/ Virginia Mayo)
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, left, greets Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, after a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Europa building in Brussels, on February 26, 2018. (AP Photo/ Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS — European Union and Arab League countries insisted on Monday that Jerusalem must be the joint capital of Israel and a future Palestinian state, after US President Donald Trump announced its embassy would be moved to the city later this year.

The US State Department notified Congress on Friday that the Jerusalem embassy would open in May to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence, speeding up the process by converting a building that currently houses consular services to be the embassy. The State Department confirmed the timing of the move.

The Palestinian Authority responded in anger to the news, saying “unilateral” moves would not contribute to achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Hamas, for its part, warned that the decision would lead to an “explosion” in the region.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, right, is greeted by European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini prior to a meeting at the Europa building in Brussels on February 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Speaking after talks on Monday between EU and Arab League foreign ministers, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that the “special status and character of the city must be preserved.”

She said the two blocs also “see eye to eye” that there can only be a two-state solution to the conflict, with Israel and the Palestinians living side by side in peace.

Netanyahu is expected to invite Trump to Israel in May to inaugurate the new US embassy, Hadashot TV news reported on Saturday.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is being planned for mid-May. Israel proclaimed independence on May 14, 1948. According to Channel 10 and Hadashot news, the ceremony could be held on May 14 to honor that date. (Israel celebrates its anniversary of independence according to the Hebrew calendar; Independence Day — Yom Ha’atzmaut — falls on April 19 this year.)

The prime minister on Monday said Trump is “worthy of all praise,” and that ”it’s only a matter of time before other countries join the US in moving their embassies to Jerusalem.”

US President Donald Trump fields questions from the media as he departs from the South Lawn of the White House, on February 23, 2018. (AFP Photo/Olivier Douliery)

At a faction meeting of his ruling Likud party, Netanyahu said he would “personally thank” Trump during their meeting in Washington next week on behalf of Israel.

On Sunday, the prime minister said the move would have “long-term implications.”

“This is a great moment for the citizens of Israel and a historic moment for the State of Israel,” Netanyahu told his ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. “All the citizens of Israel will celebrate it together. It has long-term implications and great historic significance.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on February 25, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON)

Trump’s December declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing plans to relocate the embassy there was met with Israeli praise and worldwide condemnation. That same month, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the administration’s move and calling on countries not to move their diplomatic missions to the city.

Relations between the US administration and the PA have been strained since Trump’s December 6 announcement.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas and senior PA officials have since stated that the US was no longer qualified to play any role in a Middle East peace process because of its “bias” in favor of Israel, and the PA has refused all substantive contacts with the Trump administration.

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