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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Macron tells Netanyahu: ‘I disapprove of Trump’s decision on Jerusalem’

The French President met Israel’s Prime Minister in Paris on Sunday, in the wake of Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands during a joint news conference following their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on December 10, 2017. AFP / PHILIPPE WOJAZER
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands during a joint news conference following their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on December 10, 2017. AFP / PHILIPPE WOJAZER

French President Emmanuel Macron has told Israel’s Prime Minister that he disapproves of President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, calling it a “threat to peace”.

Speaking after a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris on Sunday, the French leader said he "told Mr Netanyahu that Mr Trump's statement on Jerusalem is a threat to peace and we are against it".

He urged the Israeli leader to make gestures to the Palestinians to help break the impasse between the two sides, suggesting that a freeze of settlement construction could be a first step.

"I urged the Prime Minister to show courage in his dealings with the Palestinians to get us out of the current dead-end," Mr Macron said at a joint press conference at the Elysee Palace after talks with Mr Netanyahu.

Mr Netanyahu's talks in Paris on Sunday and with EU ministers in Brussels on Monday are part of his first foreign trip since Mr Trump's declaration set off protests and clashes throughout the Middle East last week.

The trip had been planned before Mr Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel – a move which was described as "regrettable" by the French leader and condemned by all Arab countries.

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Mr Macron used his statement to call for peace, urging Mr Netanyahu to negotiate with the Palestinians. He added that France believed that a two-state solution was the only viable option to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Mr Netanyahu responded by saying the Trump administration is leading a “serious effort” to make peace, and that the sooner the Palestinians came to terms with the reality that Jerusalem is Israel's capital, the sooner there will be peace.

"The most important thing about peace is first of all to recognise that the other side has a right to exist," he said. "One of the manifestations of this refusal is the mere refusal to sit down with Israel.

"Here is the gesture I offer .. to [Palestinian President] Mr Abbas to sit down and negotiate peace. That's a gesture for peace. Nothing could be simpler," he said.

The French President also urged Mr Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement building during their talks.

"It seems to me that freezing settlement building and confidence measures with regard to the Palestinian authority are important acts to start with, which we discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu," he told reporters.

The two leaders also discussed the threat posed by Iran and Hizbollah's status in Lebanon.

“President Macron and I agree we must stop the main source of unrest in the Middle East, which is Iran,” Mr Netanyahu said.

He said that many Arab nations were increasingly aligned with Israel to tackle Iran's regional threat.

"Many Arab countries recognise that Israel is not their enemy but their indispensable ally," he said.

He added that he sought to use closer ties with Arab nations to isolate extremists and counter Iran.

"What Iran is trying to do is to entrench itself militarily with land, air and naval forces in Syria with the express purpose of fighting and destroying Israel. We will not tolerate that and we back up our words with actions," he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 10 December 2017. EPA/PHILIPPE WOJAZER
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 10 December 2017. EPA/PHILIPPE WOJAZER

Mr Netanyahu also hit back at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after he labelled Israel a "state that kills children," calling him a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers and supports terrorists.

"I am not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran get around international sanctions, and who helps terrorists, including in Gaza, kill innocent people," Mr Netanyahu said. "That is not the man who is going to lecture us."

On Saturday, Mr Netanyahu had criticised "hypocrisy" in Europe over condemnation of Mr Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, saying rockets from Gaza should also be criticised.

"While I respect Europe, I am not prepared to accept a double standard from it," said Mr Netanyahu. "I hear voices from there condemning President Trump's historic statement, but I have not heard condemnations of the rockets fired at Israel or the terrible incitement against it.

"I am not prepared to accept this hypocrisy," he said.

Several rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel on Thursday and Friday following Trump's declaration, leading Israel to respond with air strikes that killed two people.

The French President addressed the violence in his remarks on Sunday, saying he condemned "all the attacks in these last few hours and days" against Israel. "We should give peace a chance," Mr Macron said.

The French President has taken an active role in seeking to resolve Middle East crises in recent months, travelling widely and hosting high profile events such as last week's conference on Lebanon.

He was the first European leader to call Donald Trump last week, before he made his decision on Jerusalem, to warn him about the threat it would pose to regional stability.

Mr Trump's move has been hailed by Israel, but has outraged Palestinian leaders who say President Mahmud Abbas will refuse to meet US Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region this month.

Mr Trump's declaration on Wednesday was followed by protests and clashes in the Palestinian territories. Tens of thousands have also protested in Middle Eastern and Muslim countries.