Crucial EU-Israel meeting in Brussels on Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem
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Crucial EU-Israel meeting in Brussels on Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Brussels on Monday where he will meet the Foreign Ministers of the EU member states at an informal breakfast to discuss the Middle East peace process and the bilateral relations between EU and Israel. The meeting will probably focus on Trump’s largely symbolic announcement last week where he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel without clearly distinguishing between the Western and Eastern parts of the city and without presenting any peace plan. The announcement catered mainly for Trump’s Christian-evangelical supporters.

West Jerusalem has been Israel’s de facto capital since the establishment of the state and recognizing it as the Israeli capital is to state the obvious. East Jerusalem was captured by Israel in the six-day war in 1967 after Jordan entered the war and its status would have to be resolved in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Trump mentioned preparations to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but such a move can take several years. In the meantime he signed, like previous presidents have done, a waiver of the American law that requires the move. He also stressed that the status quo should be preserved in Jerusalem.

The issue of Jerusalem, however, is a powder keg which easily can be ignited and the announcement was seen by the Arab world as a provocation and a blow against the Palestinian aspirations of a state of their own with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The announcement prompted EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini last Thursday to express EU’s concerns and to repeat that the only realistic solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is based on two states with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states.

While moderate Arab countries, which are expected to play a role in the peace process, expressed regret and bewilderment at Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Mogherini seems to have gone a step further when she said that his announcement “has the potential to send us backwards to even darker times than the ones we are already living in”.

She did not specify what she meant by “darker times” but might have referred to the risk of a new intifada. Violent protests in the West Bank and Gaza did indeed break out during the weekend, as every time Jerusalem is in limelight, but the likelihood that they will escalate to wide-spread intifada is estimated as low.

Mogherini declined to a respond to questions from The Brussels Times for an explanation or to elaborate on how EU intends to “engage even more with the parties and with regional and international partners” to relaunch the peace process and end the occupation, now when the US is not seen as an honest broker by the Palestinians.

Nor did the Israeli Prime Minister respond to any questions. He seemed to be in a combative mood when he left yesterday evening for a diplomatic mission to Europe, despite demonstrations in Tel Aviv which gathered tens of thousands of people calling for his resignation over allegations of corruption in the government.

Netanyahu stated that he ascribes great importance to Europe. “While I respect Europe, I am not prepared to accept a double standard from it. 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.”

The diplomatic row over Trump’s announcement is not the only issue which risks souring the relations between the EU and Israel. The Israeli ministry of foreign affairs lashed out last Monday against EU ambassadors planning to visit a photo exhibition arranged by the Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem and accused them of “spitting Israelis in their face”.

The Israeli reaction probably originates from the deputy minister of foreign affairs who recently was almost fired by Netanyahu after she alienated the American-Jewish community with her shocking opinions on its relations to Israel.

The exhibition “50 years” shows portraits of 50 Palestinians born in 1967, the year when the occupation of Palestinian territories started, and takes place in a warehouse in Yafo port in Tel Aviv. There is no violence in the photos. An accompanying photo book tells the personal story of those who were photographed, all hoping for a better future in peace and freedom.

B’Tselem means “in the image of” in Hebrew and refers to the Biblical creation story where mankind was created in the image of God. By showing the face of the “other” the exhibition aims at promoting understanding and empathy with those living under occupation their whole life.

The Brussels Times