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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Netanyahu urges EU leaders to wait for US Middle East peace plan

It comes after US president Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday last week — a move that prompted Jordanian MPs on Sunday night to task a parliamentary committee with reviewing the country's peace treaty with Israel

Demonstrators wave the Belgium and Palestinian flags as they gather to protest the arrival of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brussels on December 11, 2017. Stephanie Lecocq / EPA
Demonstrators wave the Belgium and Palestinian flags as they gather to protest the arrival of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brussels on December 11, 2017. Stephanie Lecocq / EPA

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged European Union leaders on Monday not to put forward any new initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling on them to wait for a US plan.

It comes after US president Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday last week — a move that prompted Jordanian MPs on Sunday night to task a parliamentary committee with reviewing the country's peace treaty with Israel. Jordan is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

During a visit to Brussels on Monday, Mr Netanyahu met with foreign ministers from the EU's 28 member states and said the United States should be allowed to advance its Middle East peace plan that Mr Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is spearheading.

"I think we should give peace a chance," he added.

While EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and other bloc leaders have been critical of the US move, Mr Netanyahu said on Monday it made peace possible "because recognising reality is the substance of peace, the foundation of peace". By recognising Jerusalem, Mr Trump had "put the facts on the table," he claimed.

He said he believed that most EU countries would now recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

But Ms Mogherini, speaking at a joint press conference with Mr Netanyahu, took issue with the Israeli and American positions. "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 1967 lines," she said.

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Read more:

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Jordanians call for annulment of peace treaty with Israel as King Abdullah meets Palestinian leader

Leaders in the Middle East react to Trump's Jerusalem decision

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Menachem Klein, a political scientist at Israel's Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said on Monday that the prime minister has been emboldened by Mr Trump's rejection of international law during his speech that recognised Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

Given that Mr Trump justified the move as "nothing more or less than a recognition of reality", Mr Netanyahu will now feel he has the backing to accelerate settlement building and establish permanent control over most of the West Bank, Mr Klein said.

"Recognising reality also means recognising the settlements," the analyst added. "This is a game changer and not only in Jerusalem. The US administration doesn't think international law is binding, only the facts on the ground. And this is Netanyahu's position."

In Mr Klein's view, Mr Netanyahu wants negotiations with the Palestinians that are based on Mr Trump's statement, which said the US would support a two-state solution only if it is agreed to by the two parties. The current Israeli government opposes such a solution.

"Netanyahu wants negotiations based on this statement. He wants the other side to surrender, to accept his terms and he expects this to happen with US backing," Mr Klein said.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was headed to Cairo on Monday for talks with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi, a day after meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman.

In response to the US's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, MPs in Jordan voted unanimously on Sunday night to task a parliamentary committee with reviewing all agreements with Israel.

That includes Jordan's Wadi Araba peace treaty with Israel. When it was signed in 1994, the treaty made Jordan one of only two Arab countries to have reached a peace agreement with Israel, along with Egypt in 1979.

Speaking to The National on Monday, Jordanian MPs said they believed Israel had violated the Wadi Araba treaty and that the reviewing of Jordan's agreements with Israel should be seen as the country taking action against the US move.

By tasking the judicial affairs committee with reviewing such agreements, “our goal is to discuss the legality of the peace treaty since the one who signed it (the Israelis) and the Americans in their capacity as a witness have violated it,” said MP Nabil Ghishan.

“So why should we remain committed to it? This is a serious step on our part in our attempts to take action.”

Khaled Ramadan, another member of parliament, added: "Since the peace treaty was signed 23 years we believe that the Zionist entity (Israel) has violated it as well as the Oslo Accords and Camp David [Accords]. Subsequently, it is our role as a legislative body to review it and to take a position against this treaty which we believe is null and void."

"Trump’s decision is a challenge to Jordan and to its role as the Hashemite custodian [of the Muslim holy sites] in Jerusalem."

He said MPs were also demanding the closure of the Israeli embassy in Amman and the withdrawal of the Jordanian ambassador to Tel Aviv, as well as for Amman to cancel a with US$10 billion (Dh36.7bn) gas deal it signed last year with Israel. Under that deal, an Israeli gas consortium is supposed to supply Jordan with natural gas from the Leviathan energy field for 15 years, turning Israel into Jordan's largest gas supplier.

Meanwhile, Mr Abbas, the Palestinian president, is the biggest loser from Mr Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and his plan to move the US embassy to Tel Aviv.

For the last decade, Mr Abbas has staked everything on a US-mediated negotiations process that would lead to an independent Palestinian state. But now he faces the grim reality that the US peace plan, when proferred, will likely be in line with Mr Netanyahu's vision.

"If the plan is so biased, as all indications show, the Palestinians will say its inconsistent with legality and UN resolutions and therefore irrelevant. That's what I expect if things continue as is," said Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian Authority minister and the current vice president of Bir Zeit University in the West Bank.

Regarding Mr Netanyahu's call for the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, Mr Khatib added: "Israel is not asking any other country to do that. The Palestinians have already recognised Israel in the way that it wanted in 1993. This is a media gimmick." He was referring to the Palestine Liberation Organisation's recognition of Israel as part of the Oslo Accords.

Clashes between Palestinian protesters angry at the US move and Israeli troops continued in the West Bank and Gaza on Monday. Twenty-five Palestinians were wounded by live fire, rubber coated metal bullets or tear gas inhalation at the entrance to the West Bank city of Al Bireh, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported, while four people were wounded by gunfire along Israel's border fence with Gaza.

* Suha Ma'ayeh reported from Amman