PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his disapproval of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital Sunday at a press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and urged the Israeli leader to “show courage” in advancing peace talks.
Netanyahu, for his part, insisted that Jerusalem is as much Israel’s capital as Paris is France’s. And he said the sooner the Palestinians “come to grips” with the fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, “the sooner we move towards peace.”
At a joint appearance marked by the open differences of opinion between the two allied leaders, Macron said he had informed Netanyahu, who arrived earlier in the day, of his opposition to the move last Wednesday by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“These statements do not serve security, especially security of Palestinians and Israelis,” Macron said after three hours of talks with the Israeli prime minister.
On Saturday, Macron had pledged to work to convince Trump to retract his decision, having called the US move “regrettable” shortly after Trump’s announcement.
In his Wednesday address 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.
Netanyahu and others in Israel have praised Trump for the move, and Netanyahu on Sunday pushed back against the French rejection.
“Where else is the capital of Israel but Jerusalem?” the prime minister asked at the press conference, noting that Israel’s government and courts are located in the holy city.
“Jerusalem has not been the capital of any other people,” he said.
“Paris is the capital of France. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It’s been the capital of Israel for 3,000 years; it’s been the capital of the State of Israel for 70 years,” Netanyahu said. “We respect your history and your choices. and I know that, as friends, you respect ours,” he told Macron. “And it is also essential for peace. I think that what peace requires is to be built on the foundation of truth, on the facts of the past and on the present. This is the only way that you can build pluralistic and successful future.”
Macron, who told the Israeli prime minister he considered Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem to run contrary to international law, called on Netanyahu to push for advancing peace talks, though he said he was not looking to start another peace initiative, as his predecessor François Hollande had attempted. He said that the main focus now was to prevent violence.
“I urged the prime minister to show courage in his dealings with the Palestinians to get us out of the current dead-end,” Macron said.
“It seems to me that freezing settlement building and confidence measures with regard to the Palestinian Authority are important acts to start with, which we discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu,” he said.
Their talks came after the weekend saw increased bouts of violence in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza as Palestinians protested the US recognition of the capital. On Sunday, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed a Jerusalem security guard, severely wounding him, having posted on Facebook about his anger over Jerusalem.
Responding to Macron, Netanyahu countered that peace would not be possible unless the Palestinians accepted that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.
“The sooner the Palestinians come to the realization, the sooner we will have peace,” he said.
Noting that a “serious” US effort was underway to resume the peace process, Netanyahu added: “All I can say is, pardon the expression, give peace a chance.”
Netanyahu stressed that the most important thing in any potential peace agreement is for both sides to recognize that the other has a right to exist. “This is what is holding back Israeli-Palestinian peace,” he said.
“Here is my offer — to sit down and negotiate peace,” he said. “I have repeatedly invited [Palestinian Authority] President Abbas, and I do it here again, in the Elysee. That’s a gesture of peace. Nothing could be simpler.”
Netanyahu also spoke of an “outside-in” regional peace plan, which would see normalization with Arab countries pave the way for peace with the Palestinians. Publicly, the idea has been widely rejected by the Arab world.
“I seek to use this growing normalization with countries in the region to do two things: Isolate the extremists; and second, to create a realism toward peace with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said. “This is called the outside-in strategy.”
Praise for Hariri stance
Netanyahu also commended the French leader for his position on Lebanon and Iran. Macron was influential in negotiating Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s retraction of his resignation and return to his position.
Netanyahu, in their private talks, reiterated that Israel would not allow Iran to establish a permanent military presence north of Israel’s border. He also urged Macron to act to help prevent Iran building weapons factories in Lebanon, and said Israel would take action there if necessary.
On Friday, Macron spoke at an international meeting aimed at preventing the fragile nation becoming a pawn in the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The French president said it was “essential that all of the parties in Lebanon and regional actors respect the cardinal principle of non-interference” in other countries.
Macron announced during the press conference that he will visit Israel in 2018.
Speaking alongside Netanyahu, Macron condemned terror attacks against Israel.
“Israel is a friend,” the president said. “We’re close friends and we won’t accept any terror attacks.”
AFP contributed to this report