Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his case to Europe to ask allies to join the United States in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but was met by a firm rebuff from EU foreign ministers who saw the move as a blow against the peace process.
Making his first ever visit to EU headquarters in Brussels, Netanyahu said President Donald Trump’s move made peace in the Middle East possible “because recognizing reality is the substance of peace, the foundation of peace.”
Trump announced last Wednesday that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking with decades of U.S. policy and international consensus that the ancient city’s status must be decided in Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it in a 1967 war, considers the entire city to be its capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.
The Trump administration says it remains committed to the peace process and its decision does not affect Jerusalem’s future borders or status. It says any credible future peace deal will place the Israeli capital in Jerusalem, and ditching old policies is needed to revive a peace process frozen since 2014.
But even Israel’s closest European allies have rejected that logic and say recognising Israel’s capital unilaterally risks inflaming violence and further wrecking the chance for peace.
After a breakfast meeting between Netanyahu and EU foreign ministers, Sweden’s top diplomat said no European at the closed-door meeting had voiced support for Trump’s decision, and no country was likely to follow the United States in announcing plans to move its embassy.
“I have a hard time seeing that any other country would do that and I don’t think any other EU country will do it,” Margot Wallstrom told reporters.
Several EU foreign ministers arriving at the meeting reiterated the bloc’s position that lands Israel has occupied since the 1967 war – including East Jerusalem as well as the West Bank and Golan Heights, are not within Israel’s borders.
Israel’s position does appear to have more support from some EU states than others. Last week, the Czech foreign ministry said it would begin considering moving the Czech Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while Hungary blocked a planned EU statement condemning the U.S. move.
But Prague later said it accepted Israel’s sovereignty only over West Jerusalem, and Budapest said its long-term position seeking a two-state solution in the Middle East had not changed.
On Monday, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said of Trump’s decision: “I’m afraid it can’t help us.”
“I’m convinced that it is impossible to ease tension with a unilateral solution,” Zaoralek said. “We are talking about an Israeli state but at the same time we have to speak about a Palestinian state.”
Trump’s announcement triggered days of protests across the Muslim world and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in which scores of Palestinians were wounded and several killed. By Monday morning, violence appeared to have subsided.
Netanyahu, who has been angered by the EU’s search for closer business ties with Iran, said Europeans should emulate Trump’s move and press the Palestinians to do so too.
“It’s time that the Palestinians recognise the Jewish state and also recognise the fact that it has a capital. It’s called Jerusalem,” he said.
In comments filmed later on his plane, he said he had told the Europeans to “stop pampering the Palestinians”. “I think the Palestinians need a reality check. You have to stop cutting them slack. That’s the only way to move forward towards peace.”
Trump’s announcement last week has triggered a war of words between Netanyahu and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, straining ties between the two U.S. allies which were restored only last year after a six year breach that followed the Israeli storming of a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza.
On Sunday, Erdogan called Israel a “terror state”. Netanyahu responded by saying he would accept no moral lectures from Erdogan who he accused of bombing Kurdish villages, jailing opponents and supporting terrorists.
On Monday Erdogan took aim directly at Washington over Trump’s move: “The ones who made Jerusalem a dungeon for Muslims and members of other religions will never be able to clean the blood from their hands,” he said in a speech in Ankara. “With their decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has become a partner in this bloodshed.”
The decision to recognise Jerusalem could also strain Washington’s ties with its other main Muslim ally in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, which has sought closer relations with Washington under Trump than under his predecessor Barack Obama.
Saudi Arabia shares U.S. and Israeli concerns about the increasing regional influence of Iran, and was seen as a potential broker for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal. But Saudis have suggested that unilateral decisions over Jerusalem make any such rapprochement more difficult.
Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi ambassador to the United States and veteran ex-security chief, published a strongly-worded open letter to Trump on Monday denouncing the Jerusalem move.
“Bloodshed and mayhem will definitely follow your opportunistic attempt to make electoral gain,” the prince wrote in a letter published in the Saudi newspaper al-Jazeera.
“Your action has emboldened the most extreme elements in the Israeli society … because they take your action as a license to evict the Palestinians from their lands and subject them to an apartheid state,” he added. “Your action has equally emboldened Iran and its terrorist minions to claim that they are the legitimate defenders of Palestinian rights.”
The Trump administration says it is working on a peace proposal being drawn up by Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
European leaders say the decision on Israel’s capital makes the need for a broader peace move more urgent.
“We’ve been waiting already for several months for the American initiative, and if one is not forthcoming then the European Union will have to take the initiative,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.