Macron Tells Netanyahu: Give Peace a Chance, Make Gestures Toward the Palestinians

France's president says Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital is a threat to peace

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of a meeting at The Elysee Palace in Paris on December 10, 2017.
PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP

PARIS —  French President Emmanuel Macron told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that he ought to "give peace a chance" and "make gestures toward the Palestinians." 

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Speaking at a joint press conference following a meeting between the two leaders at the lysée Palace in Paris, Macron suggested that one such gesture would be the freezing of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

Macron also said he told Netanyahu that U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital last Wednesday is a threat to peace, and that the French government is opposed to it.

Macron said that while it was not new that Israel considered Jerusalem to be its capital, the shift in U.S. policy was a departure from the international community's stance, which he pointed out was a big change. 

In a reference to the terror attack that struck Jerusalem's central bus station earlier on Sunday, Macron said that he condemned the attack on Israel in recent hours, adding that he condemns all security threats against Israel. 

France has an honest dialogue with Israel and will not tolerate any attacks on the Jewish state, Macron emphasized. 

Netanyahu and Macron embrace ahead of meeting in France's Elysee Palace on December 10, 2017.
Avi Ohayon/GPO

The French president also said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be resolved through a negotiated two-state solution both parties agree on. "We should give peace a chance," the French president said. 

Macron also announced he will visit Israel in 2018.

Speaking at the press conference after Macron, Netanyahu said that Israel and France had their disagreements, but that the two countries were working to sort them out.

The Israeli premier said the sooner the Palestinians came to grips with the reality that Jerusalem is Israel's capital, the sooner there will be peace. 

Netanyahu raised concerns about the threat posed by Iran, saying that the country is attempting to set up land, air and naval bases in Syria to target and destroy Israel. "We will not tolerate it," he stressed.

Netanyahu also warned of Iran's entrenchment in the wider region, but said that he thought the Iranian people were ready for peace and wished to see change. 

Netanyahu mentioned that Israel destroyed an attack tunnel leading into Israeli territory on Sunday morning, saying that Israel was developing breakthrough technologies to protect itself. 

Netanyahu said that he welcomed Macron's condemnation of terror, stating that France and Israel shared a lot of goals and values and collaborate a lot when it came to security issues. 

He told Macron that he believed the attack was not triggered by anything but hatred for Israel, commenting that the reason it happened was Israel's existence.

Netanyahu also raised the issue of the latest rift with Turkey, responding to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who blasted Israel earlier on Sunday and said it was a "terrorist state."

"I will not take lectures from Turkey's president, who bombs Kurdish villages, supports Iran and terrorists in Gaza," Netanyahu said. 

The two also discussed bilateral ties and cooperation in technology, finance and culture, and expressed hopes to further bolster ties between the two countries.

The meeting was originally planned as a friendly lunch, and was to focus on Iran, but in light of the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week, it became a more tense affair.

During the meeting, Macron asked Netanyahu, among other things, about Israel's intentions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Netanyahu and the French president also discussed the regional threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah's status in Lebanon. 

Last week, shortly before U.S. President Donald Trump gave his speech about Jerusalem on Wednesday, Macron was the first European leader to call him and warn about the potential regional impact of unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital only.

On Sunday, Macron became the first leader to host Netanyahu after the announcement. France is especially worried about the decision’s implications for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

Their meeting was scheduled last month, before Trump decided to recognize Jerusalem, in response to the crisis sparked by the resignation (since withdrawn) of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Hariri announced his resignation in Saudi Arabia and flew from there to France.

On Saturday, as he took off for Paris and Brussels, Netanyahu lashed out at European nations for condemning Trump's decision, while failing to speak out against rocket fire at Israel. "I am taking off now to Paris and Brussels for meeting with the EU foreign minister. I will not accept a double standard from them. I hear voices condemning Trump [over Jerusalem] but not for rocket fire. I will not accept this hypocrisy. I will represent Israel with my head held high," Netanyahu said.

Paris has been very active in recent months in several important Middle East crises, including the ones that most pressing to Netanyahu at the moment: Hezbollah’s status in Lebanon, Iran’s growing presence in Syria and the fate of the Iranian nuclear deal. But while the French have labeled Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist organization, they have not done so for the organization’s political wing. Moreover, France is leading the charge to preserve the nuclear deal.

Nevertheless, France agrees with Israel about the regional threat posed by Iran, especially in Syria, as well as the threat posed by Iran’s ballistic missiles.