As Netanyahu Prepares to Visit Brussels, Tensions With EU's Mogherini Worsen

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini twice assailed Trump's decision on Jerusalem, saying it could bring about 'darker times than ones we are already living in'

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Brussels on December 5, 2017.
Virginia Mayo

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to visit European Union headquarters in Brussels on Monday, tensions between Israel and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini are intensifying. Over the past two days, Mogherini has twice assailed U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision on Wednesday to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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Netanyahu will also face a campaign by EU parliamentarians demanding compensation for EU-funded structures in the Palestinian territories demolished by Israel.

On Wednesday, Mogherini issued a statement expressing “serious concern” over Trump’s announcement. The EU’s position remains that Jerusalem’s status must be determined through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as part of a two-state solution, she added. 

Sources in Brussels said this statement was intended to be issued in the name of EU’s member states, but was blocked at the last minute by Hungary. Consequently, it was issued in Mogherini’s name only.

On Thursday, Mogherini doubled down, saying in a recorded speech that Trump’s announcement “has the potential to send us backwards to even darker times than the ones we are already living in. 

“The European Union has a clear and united position,” she continued. “We believe that the only realistic solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine is based on two states, and with Jerusalem as the capital of both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.” 

She added that she had discussed this issue with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was visiting Brussels, and that representatives of all 28 EU member states had done the same.

Finally, she warned all sides not to do anything that would “further escalate tensions on the ground,” especially regarding Jerusalem’s holy sites.

On Thursday, Israel's Foreign Ministry retorted that her position is “surprising.”

“Her insistence that Jerusalem isn’t the capital of Israel is a denial of an incontrovertible historic fact,” it said. “Every denial of this simple truth distances peace by creating expectations among the Palestinians that are disconnected from reality. President Trump took a brave and correct step which advanced the chances for peace by telling the truth.”

Members of the European Parliament are also planning to protest Netanyahu’s visit via a campaign demanding that Israel repay EU funds spent on Palestinian facilities that were thereafter demolished by Israel. The facilities in question were located in Area C, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control.

The tensions over Jerusalem will merely add fuel to the fire of EU anger over the way Netanyahu’s visit was arranged. Netanyahu took EU leaders by surprise when he announced his upcoming visit in the Knesset, as he had not been invited through the usual protocol but rather solely by Lithuania – a country very friendly towards him. This surprise move led Mogherini to invite Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a similar visit in early 2018.

Netanyahu’s visit will open with brief remarks by him and Mogherini, after which he will have breakfast with all the EU foreign ministers. The breakfast is expected to be followed by a press conference.

Israel sees the EU as hostile territory and is proud of the fact that this will be the first visit to Brussels by an Israeli prime minister in many years. But Netanyahu’s joy is liable to be dimmed not only by the expected tense encounter with Mogherini, but also by parliamentarians’ reimbursement campaign for the EU-funded Palestinian facilities in Area C destroyed by Israel. The campaign will consist of posters, petitions and advertisements.

The parliamentarians’ protest follows a letter sent by eight EU states in which, for the first time, they demanded compensation from Israel for the confiscation or demolition of EU-funded buildings and infrastructure in Area C.