BRUSSELS: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that recognizing Jerusalem as his country’s capital “makes peace possible,” after widespread international criticism of the US decision to do so.
US President Donald Trump’s announcement last week has been followed by days of protests and clashes in the Palestinian territories, as well as demonstrations across the Islamic world.
The EU expressed alarm at the decision, which upends seven decades of US policy on the disputed holy city, and the bloc’s foreign ministers are set to urge Netanyahu to resume dialogue with the Palestinians as he meets them over breakfast in Brussels.
The Israeli premier said what Trump had done was to “put facts squarely on the table” by acknowledging 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,” he said in a statement alongside EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini.
Mogherini, who last week warned the Jerusalem decision could take the situation “backwards to even darker times,” restated the EU’s position that a two-state solution with Jerusalem as capital for both Israelis and Palestinians was the only sustainable way to resolve the conflict.
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.
The talks come after French President Emmanuel Macron met Netanyahu in Paris on Sunday and called on him to freeze settlement building and to re-engage with Palestinians following widespread protests over the US move.
Last week’s decision by the administration of US President Donald Trump upended decades of US diplomacy and broke with international consensus.
Speaking alongside Netanyahu on Sunday, Macron again condemned the decision as “contrary to international law and dangerous for the peace process.”
“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 after talks in Paris with the Israeli leader.
“Peace does not depend on the United States alone… it depends on the capacity of the two Israeli and Palestinian leaders to do so,” the French leader said.
Netanyahu has praised Trump’s decision as “historic” and he explained Sunday that Jerusalem “has always been our capital and it has never been the capital of any other people.”
“It has been the capital of Israel for 3,000 years, it has been the capital of the Jewish state for 70 years. We respect your history and your choices and we know that as friends you respect ours. I think this is also central for peace,” he said.
“The sooner the Palestinians come to grips with this reality, the sooner we’ll move toward peace.”
Pointedly, Macron began his pre-prepared remarks with a clear condemnation “with the greatest of clarity of all forms of attacks in the last hours and days against Israel.”
Despite the obvious differences between the 39-year-old French leader and the Israeli hardliner, there were also attempts to show they had developed a good early working relationship and held common views.
“Does this mean Emmanuel Macron and me agree on everything? No, not all of it, but we’re working it,” Netanyahu said at one point, joking later: “The lunch in the Elysee is superb, the conversation is superb too.”
The two countries are keen to reset ties after often difficult exchanges under ex-president Francois Hollande.