Getting the cold shoulder at the European Union in Brussels, 68-year-old Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hoped that 71-year-old President Donald Trump Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would go over well. Trump’s declaration was rejected by the EU and Arab states, despite the fact that Israel has managed Jerusalem since June 10, 1967, the end of the Six Day War. Netanyahu was told by the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Frederica Mogherini that the EU would not accept Trump’s unilateral decision. Morgerhini knows that Trump simply implemented a 1995 U.S. law passed by Congress recognizing Jerusalem as Israeil’s capital. EU officials, while rejecting Trump’s decision, should put Palestinians and Arab states on notice that Jerusalem is not a Muslim capital, something said Dec. 8 by 54-year-old Hamas Leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Since 1967, the world knows that Israel has been a faithful steward of Jerusalem’s religious holy sites, assuring safe access for pilgrims visiting historically significant religious shrines. While Trump hoped that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would drive Palestinians to the peace table, it did the opposite. Palestinians and other Arab states have been rioting, protesting since Trump’s Dec. 6 decision. Morherhini wants any decision about Jerusalem to be part of direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians. “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, no one can deny it. It doesn’t obviate peace, it makes peace possible,” Netanyahu told Mogherini today in Brussels. While it’s true Israel has managed Jerusalem for 50 years, it’s also true that Palestinians and other Arab states don’t accept Israeli rule. Mogherini wants Netanyahu to allow direct negotiations to determine the fate of Jerusalem.
Czech Republic Prime Minister Milos Zeman, an EU member, said Dec. 7 he has no problem with Israel declaring West Jerusalem as its capital, urging other EU countries to do the same. “We do not wish to see a discredited U.S. administration when it comes to the negotiations in the Middle East,” said Mogherini not accepting the fact that there are no negotiations, nor are there plans for any. Palestine Liberation Chairman [PLO] 82-year-old Mahmoud Abbas refused to meet with Vice President Mike Pence on his scheduled December Mideast trip. Abbas was so incensed by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital he refused to meet with Pence to discus resuming peace talks. Mogherini and other EU officials need to face reality that Palestinians aren’t interested in peace talks unless it’s on their terms. It’s hard to “discredit” U.S.-brokered peace talks when one of the parties refuse to meet.
Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem was not about sacrificing Palestinians rights, only a way to jumpstart peace talks. “He [Netanyahu] can keep his expectations for others, because from the European Union members states’ side, this move will not come,” said Mogherini, rejecting the idea of other EU states moving embassies to Jerusalem. Since the end of the 1967 Six Day War, the United Nations has not recognized Israel’s annexation of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip, Jordan’s East Jerusalem and West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights. Israel’s returned the Sinai to Egypt in 1979 and Gaza to Palestinians in 1994. For the most part, Israel has given the PLO autonomy over the West Bank, despite building Jewish settlements near historic biblical places. Palestinians want Israel completely out of the West Bank, something that could happen in direct talks.
Resolving the thorny issue of Jerusalem has been more difficult with Hamas ruling Gaza and PLO ruling the West Bank. Despite attempts at reconciliation, Hamas retains its militant wing Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, stockpiling rockets-and-arms from Iran and Hezbollah. Hamas has refused to disarm, only recently declaring a new intifada or uprising with Israel. Hamas has shown no interest in recognizing Israel, continuing its founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin’s war to destroy Israel. Without the U.S. as the primary peace broker, it’s difficult to get any agreement with Israel, concerned about its security fighting terrorism on all sides of its borders United Nations and EU officials have no answer for dealing with peace talks between Israel and Palestinians. Only the U.S. has the history and capability of dealing with both sides. Netanyahu isn’t naïve about the United Nations and EU perspective.
U.N. and EU officials should do their best to help Palestinians understand that the U.S. position in no way prejudices Palestinians in any face-to-face negotiations with Israel. Instead of letting Hamas and Hezbollah threaten new wars with Israel, the U.N. and EU should remind the PLO that the U.S. intends to broker a just settlement for all parties. “Everyone knows that the resolution of the Middle East crisis goes through negotiations and the recognition of two states,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Derian. Recognizing the reality on the ground in Jerusalem, Beligum Foreign Minister Didler Reynders said Jerusalem “could be the capital of Israel and future Palestinian state, but that has to be negotiated between the two parties.” Everything sounds good as long as both parties return to the peace table. So far, Palestinians aren’t willing to play ball.