Israeli, French leaders tangle over U.S. Jerusalem decision
JERUSALEM – The French and Israeli leaders sparred verbally Sunday over the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while new violence rippled across the region following the move by U.S. President Donald Trump.
In Jerusalem, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli security guard, seriously wounding him in the first attack in the volatile city since Trump’s pronouncement Wednesday. In Beirut, scores of Lebanese and Palestinian demonstrators clashed with security forces outside the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy, and Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo demanded that the United States rescind the decision.
The move upended decades of U.S. policy, and a longstanding international consensus, that the fate of Jerusalem be decided in negotiations. Israeli and Palestinian claims to the city’s eastern sector form the emotional core of their conflict, and Trump’s announcement was seen as siding with the Israelis and has drawn wide international criticism.
Meeting: At a meeting in Paris with Israel’s visiting prime minister, French President Emmanuel Macron condemned recent violence against Israelis. But he also expressed “disapproval” of Trump’s decision, calling it “dangerous for peace.”
“It doesn’t seem to serve, in the short term, the cause of Israel’s security and the Israelis themselves,” Macron said.
He urged Israel to freeze its construction of settlements on occupied lands and called for other confidence-building measures toward the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has called Trump’s decision “historic,” said Israel has maintained its capital in the city for 70 years and the Jewish connection to Jerusalem goes back 3,000 years.
“Paris is the capital of France, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” he said. “We respect your history and your choices. And we know that as friends, you respect ours.”
“I think the sooner the Palestinians come to grips with this reality, the sooner we move toward peace,” he added.
Tension: The exchange between the two allies set the stage for what could be a tense meeting Monday for Netanyahu with European Union foreign ministers in Brussels. The Jerusalem issue and the moribund peace process are expected to be high on the agenda.
Last week, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned that Trump’s decision “has the potential to send us backward to even darker times than the one we are already living in.”
She also warned that Trump’s “move could diminish the potential role that the United States could play in the region and create more confusion around this.”
The meeting could be a precursor for what seems to be an emerging rift between Israel and the U.S. on one side, and Europe and the Palestinians on the other.
Peace talks: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said Trump’s decision has in effect disqualified the U.S. from continuing in its role as the traditional mediator of peace talks. The Palestinians have spent recent days trying to rally Arab and broader international opposition to the decision.
After Abbas political adviser Majdi Khaldi said Saturday that the Palestinian leader won’t meet with Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region this month, a spokeswoman for Pence said Sunday it was “unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region.”
EU leaders, including Macron, have reiterated support for establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Trump has said he would support the idea if both sides endorse it — effectively giving Israel a veto over any peace proposal. Netanyahu’s government is dominated by opponents to Palestinian independence. Trump’s Middle East team, headed by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, has been working for months on a peace plan but has not yet released it.
Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed the area to its capital in a move that was not internationally recognized. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
East Jerusalem is home to Judaism’s most sacred site, as well as key holy places for Christians and Muslims, and these conflicting claims have erupted into deadly bloodshed in the past.
The region: A senior U.S. official appealed to world leaders, especially in the Middle East, to calm regional tensions.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield told Arab journalists that Trump’s pronouncement was merely a “recognition of simple reality” that Israel’s government already is in Jerusalem.
He said the U.S. was not prejudging final-status negotiations about the city’s final borders and expressed hope that world leaders understand the U.S. is committed to moving forward with a peace plan he expects to be unveiled in the new year.
“This is a question of choice: Do leaders choose to speak to their peoples, to their regions in terms that reflect reality or in terms that incite or inflame?” he said. “We hope it’s the former.”
Clashes: The Palestinians staged three “days of rage” after Trump’s dramatic announcement, with clashes breaking out in flashpoints across the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, and Gaza militants firing rockets into Israel. Four people in Gaza were killed. In the West Bank, there were dozens of injuries, but no deaths.
There were indications that Sunday’s stabbing at the Jerusalem bus station was motivated by Trump’s move, although police did not officially confirm it.
They said the attacker was a 24-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank city of Nablus. Israeli media identified him as Yassin Abu al-Qarah, who posted on his Facebook page in recent days about Jerusalem, saying “our blood is devoted” to the holy city. Comments on his profile called him a hero for the alleged attack.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the guard sustained a serious wound to his upper body and the attacker was apprehended.
Palestinian youths also clashed in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, hurling stones at Israeli soldiers, who fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas.
In Beirut, Lebanese security forces broke up the protest outside the U.S. Embassy after demonstrators pelted them with stones. After a rowdy start, the protest drew several hundred people and became more peaceful, with demonstrators chanting and singing.
Clashes resumed in the afternoon, with security forces chasing and arresting a handful of protesters and lobbing tear gas. Lebanon is home to 450,000 Palestinian refugees, nearly 10 percent of the population.
In a resolution long on rhetoric but short on concrete actions, Arab foreign ministers demanded the recognition decision be rescinded and urged the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution condemning Trump’s decision. They acknowledged that Washington would most likely veto it.
If the U.S. vetoes such a resolution, the Arabs would seek a similar resolution in the U.N. General Assembly, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Malki told a news conference in Cairo.
With few options for the Palestinians, and the Arab world preoccupied by other crises, Arab willingness to press the issue may be limited. In Paris, Netanyahu talked about his quiet but improving relations with Arab countries that look to Israel as an ally against Iran.
“There is in this a blessing, because this could help pave the way to an ultimate peace between us and our Palestinian neighbors and between us and the rest of the Arab world,” he said.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., defended Trump’s move.
“For those who want to say this is a bad idea, I’ll tell you: Ask us five or 10 years from now if you still think it’s a bad idea. Because I really do think this is going to move the ball in the peace process,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union.”