BRUSSELS — The EU’s diplomatic chief Monday bluntly rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suggestion that Europe would follow the US in recognizing Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital, saying there would be no change to its stance on the holy city.
Netanyahu said the controversial announcement by US President Donald Trump — which prompted diplomatic alarm and street protests across the Islamic world — had “put facts squarely on the table.”
As he arrived for talks in Brussels, Netanyahu said he expected “all or most” European countries would follow the US — but the 28-nation bloc’s foreign policy head Federica Mogherini gave him a stern rebuff, telling him to “keep his expectations for others.”
The EU expressed alarm last week at the US decision, but Netanyahu said Trump had simply stated facts by acknowledging that Jerusalem had been the capital of the Israeli state for 70 years and of the Jewish people for 3,000 years.
“It doesn’t obviate peace, it makes peace possible, because recognizing reality is the substance of peace, it’s the foundation of peace,” Netanyahu said in a statement alongside Mogherini ahead of a breakfast meeting with EU foreign ministers.
“I believe that all or most of the European countries will move their embassies to Jerusalem, recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and engage robustly with us for security, prosperity and peace,” Netanyahu said.
Welcomed by Israel, the Jerusalem decision upended decades of US diplomacy and broke with international consensus. Mogherini last week warned it could take the situation “backwards to even darker times.”
After nearly two hours of talks between Netanyahu and the EU ministers, Mogherini gave a flat rejection of his suggestion they could follow Trump.
“He can keep his expectations for others, because from the European Union member states’ side this move will not come,” she said, adding that the bloc — the Palestinians’ largest donor — would stick to the “international consensus” on Jerusalem.
She reiterated the EU’s stance that “the only realistic solution” for peace is two states — Israel and Palestine — with Jerusalem as the capital of both states and borders based on the pre-1967 lines, when Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Six Day War.
And she pledged to step up efforts with the two sides and regional partners including Jordan and Egypt to relaunch the peace process.
Speaking to reporters on board his plane after his breakfast meeting with EU ministers, just before taking off for Israel, Netanyahu said he told them that European nations “spoil” the Palestinians, while Trump, in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, “told them the truth.”
He said he told the EU breakfast gathering that it was high time for a more realistic discussion about where the region is headed, and that the current turmoil in the Middle East is due to a battle between “modernity and early Medievalism.”
Netanyahu said he argued against two misconceptions: that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the heart of the region’s troubles, and that the settlements are at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I asked them, ‘Does anybody believe in this?’” he reported, briefing reporters on his plane. “The poor guy who set himself on fire in Tunisia, did he really care about whether Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] and I negotiate and reach an agreement?” he said.
“The argument that at the heart of our conflict are settlements is not true,” he went on. He said he pointed out that “the opposition to Zionism started before the settlements and it continues after they’re dismantled.” And he said his reasoning was widely accepted by the EU ministers.
Netanyahu said he was asked whether he accepts the two-state solution, and that he replied by asking the ministers what kind of state the second one would be: “Would it be Costa Rica or Yemen?” The former is a stable democracy in Central America, while the latter is in a state of war-blighted anarchy.
Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital and previous peace plans have stumbled over debates on whether and how to divide sovereignty or oversee holy sites.
Mogherini also condemned attacks on Israel — after Netanyahu took aim over the weekend at what he called Europe’s “hypocrisy” for criticizing Trump’s statement, but not “the rockets fired at Israel or the terrible incitement against it.”
“Let me condemn in the strongest possible way all attacks on Jews everywhere in the world, including in Europe, and on Israel and on Israeli citizens,” Mogherini said.
Netanyahu pointed to a new US peace initiative as a possible way forward.
“There is now an effort under way to bring forward a new peace proposal by the American administration. I think we should give peace a chance. I think we should see what is presented and see if we can advance this peace,” he said.
Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has been working with a small team to develop a new US proposal to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but it is not clear what progress he is making.
Mogherini indicated that US efforts appeared to be at a very early stage, saying “both horizon and framework” — the end goal and how to get there — had still not be clearly defined.
And she warned Washington to have no illusions “that a United States initiative alone would be successful,” saying regional and international support would be essential to peace talks.
EU not unified
Most EU members, including the bloc’s biggest countries, have expressed alarm over the Trump administration’s policy shift.
But the 28-member bloc is not unified on the issue — Hungary, Greece, Lithuania and the Czech Republic in particular favor warmer ties with Israel.
And last week Hungary broke ranks to block a joint statement from the EU that was critical of Washington’s Jerusalem shift. However on Monday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his country was not changing its stance on Jerusalem.
Trump’s announcement on Wednesday has been followed by days of protests and clashes in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Four Palestinians were killed, among them two Hamas members, either in clashes or from Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rockets fired at southern Israeli communities from the Gaza Strip. Monday saw a fifth day of demonstrations.
In an address last Wednesday from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.
The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
Hamas on Thursday had called for a new intifada against Israel, on Friday urged Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers, and has allowed thousands of Gazans to confront Israeli troops at the Gaza border fence in recent days. Its leader Ismail Haniyeh on Friday praised the “blessed intifada,” urged the liberation of Jerusalem, and made plain the group was seeking to intensify violence against Israel.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.