In Brussels, Netanyahu Talks Up U.S. Peace Bid as EU Pushes for Bigger Role

As the EU's foreign policy chief calls for a two-state solution, Netanyahu stipulates peace on a Palestinian recognition of an Israeli Jerusalem

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini brief the media at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium December 11, 2017.
REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BRUSSELS – Meeting with European Union officials in Brussels, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke positively of the American peace initiative as the organization's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, told the Israeli premier that Europe wanted to be more involved in talks.

Mogherini also praised the two-state solution as the only possible framework for resolving the conflict and said the EU supports the idea of Jerusalem being a shared capital for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Netanyahu, for his part, said peace was contingent on Palestinian recognition Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Last week, Mogherini expressed her opposition of U.S. President Donald Trump's recent policy change on Jerusalem, inspiring outrage from Israeli officials and the prime minister himself. 

But despite the hostility between the two, Mogherini greeted Netanyahu by calling his visit an historic opportunity, especially considering no sitting Israeli premier has paid a visit to the EU over the past 22 years.

"Obviously, the visit comes in a particular time... we believe it is in Israel's interest, especially in the security interest of Israel, to find a sustainable and comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," she said. 

"This is why the European Union will increase its work together with our international friends and partners but also with friends and partners in the region, starting from Egypt and Jordan, and obviously with the parties – Israel and Palestine – to start to relaunch the peace process," she said, noting that the EU plans to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. 

"We believe that the only realistic solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine is based on two states, with Jerusalem as the capital of both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, along the '67 lines," the foreign policy chief stated.  

As Mogherini pledged more intense European invovlement in the peace process, Netanyahu said that peace depends on "recognizing reality." He stressed that by recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital last week, U.S. President Donald Trump "put facts on the table." 

Netanyahu said he expected most EU countries to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, adding that making such a move "doesn't obviate peace, it makes peace possible." 

Mogherini warned against tensions that have arisen in the fallout of Trump's declaration. "Let me also [add] that the worst thing that can happen now is an escalation of tensions, of violence, first of all around the Holy Places but also in the region and beyond," she said.

She also condemned attacks on Jews, both in Europe and in Israel.

The Israeli prime minister thanked Mogherini for the invitation and hailed Europe as an important Israeli partner in security and in the forging of peace. He noted that Europe was currently suffering from an influx of immigrants fleeing from conflict areas in the Middle East.

Israel, he asserted, was the main force in the Middle East that prevented Islamic militants from crushing the region.

Netanyahu then left to dine with EU foreign ministers and hold a joint press conference before taking off for Israel by midday.

His stop at Brussels was preceded by a visit to France during which he convened with French President Emmanuel Macron in a parley that was tense but overall successful

The premier's visit to the EU is a first one by a sitting Israeli prime minister in many years and comes amid a diplomatic tiff between him and the organization's foreign policy chief, Mogherini, who bashed U.S. President Donald Trump twice for unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital last week.

She said she wanted to express "serious concern" over Trump's announcement, and that the EU maintains its stance that Jerusalem's status should be determined through negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Before setting up on the trip, Netanyahu reacted to Mogherini's statements, saying:  "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.

In an unusually sharp-worded response, the Israeli Foreign Ministry also reacted,  calling Mogherini's reaction "surprising" and stated that "every denial of this simple truth [Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem] 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.”

EU members were upset with Netanyahu regardless of his disagreement with the foreign policy chief because of the manner in which his visit was arranged. The Israeli prime minister did not schedule a visit through the usual protocol but was instead invited by Lithuania, an Israeli ally.

This surprise move led Mogherini to suggest that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visit the EU in 2018.

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.