Israel | World

Following Trump’s declaration, European Union doubles down on its Jerusalem policy

President Emmanuel Macron of France at an EU meeting in Brussels, Oct. 19, 2017. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)


AMSTERDAM (JTA) — Following President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and pledge to move the U.S. Embassy there, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Jews all over the world “expect the rest of the world to follow suit.”

If that’s true, they may be in for something of a wait — especially when it comes to Israel’s other close allies in the European Union.

European leaders’ harshly worded rebukes of the Trump declaration on Wednesday suggested that they view it as his latest contribution to a growing list of disagreements on foreign policy. Some EU states see the U.S. government’s declaration as an incentive to double down on its official neutral position on the Holy City pending the result of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

One of the most outspoken rebukes came from one of Israel’s closest allies in the European Union: the Netherlands.

Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra told U.S. officials in Brussels on Wednesday that Trump’s move was “unwise and counterproductive,” according to the NOS public broadcaster. His language went further than the European Commission’s expression of “serious concern” over the statement’s possible repercussions and reiteration of its neutral position on the city.

In Britain, another key ally of Israel within the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May also rebuked the Trump statement, elaborating on her Foreign Office’s official position that the Israelis and Palestinians should decide in a peace agreement on Jerusalem’s status.

In a statement, May also added a vision of her own: “Jerusalem should ultimately form a shared capital between the Israeli and Palestinian states.”

As had been the case with the U.S. prior to Trump’s declaration, the European Union and nearly all its member states do not recognize Israel’s claim on Jerusalem as its capital. That’s because in 1947, the city had been designated by the United Nations Security Council to remain an international zone, a demilitarized “corpus separatum”— a separate body — governed by U.N. troops.

Israel captured the city’s west in its 1948 War of Independence; it captured the eastern half in 1967 and annexed it in 1980. Since then, Jerusalem has grown considerably, nearly doubling its size geographically and more than doubling its population, which numbers approximately 850,000. Of those, more than 250,000 are Palestinians living mostly in the city’s east.

While the Palestinians also claim Jerusalem as a capital, the European Union recognizes neither assertion pending the reaching of a mutually accepted solution regarding the city.

Vowing to defend this longstanding policy, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter that his country “does not approve” of Trump’s statement.

Of course, there was not uniform agreement among the EU’s 28 member states; Trump’s Jerusalem declaration also received some support.

In Prague, the spokesman for Czech President Milos Zeman fired off six Tweets within 10 minutes lauding the proclamation. Most were retweets of statements from the White House and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but one tweet contained a quote from Zeman from earlier this year in which he said Jerusalem is Israel’s “eternal capital.” The Czech parliament already recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital earlier this year, but the embassy of the Central European nation has remained in the Tel Aviv area.

In a statement Wednesday, the Czech Republic’s Foreign Ministry said it considers Jerusalem to be “in fact the capital of Israel in the borders of the demarcation line from 1967,” meaning only the city’s west. It will not move the embassy prior to a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian deal, the statement said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Bennett’s statement — that Jews will expect the world to follow the U.S. example —  was met by one nation: the Philippines. According to Israel’s Kan public broadcaster, President Rodrigo Duterte sent a message to Israel that he wanted to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem.

Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, speaking to reporters in Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 19, 2017. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Back in Brussels, however, Federica Mogherini‏, the EU’s foreign policy chief, demonstrated how Trump’s declaration may have simply entrenched European leaders’ determination not to cede any ground to Israel on Jerusalem. The bloc, she wrote after the address, “will increase its work with parties and partners to negotiate the status of Jerusalem as capital of two states.”

If this is the case, then the disparate statements fit into a wider pattern of disputes between EU leaders and Trump, in which his departures from conventional foreign relations policies have prompted his counterparts in Europe to double down on them.

For example, when the United States left the Paris Accord on global climate earlier this year – arguably one of Trump’s most significant foreign policy upsets – Macron promised he would work even harder to implement the treaty’s limitations on gas emissions and other sources of pollution.

“I can assure you,” Macron said in June, “ France will not give up the fight.”

He also addressed American “scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the president of the United States,” telling them “they will find in France a second home.”

Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium called the American decision on the Paris Accords “a brutal act,” assuring his readers on Twitter that his country is “not forsaking commitment.”

Such statements are unusual, even between the members of the uneasy alliance that makes up the European Union. In the traditionally polite and calculated framework of transatlantic discourse, such dramatic language had been unheard of in the decades prior to Trump assuming office in January.

Yet the same defiant stance was on view in October after Trump declined to ratify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran, which the United States had signed in July 2015, along with six other counties and the EU central government.

The deal, which offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for scaling back parts of its nuclear program, “is clearly not in the hands of any president of any country in the world to terminate an agreement of this sort,” Mogherini told reporters. “The president of the United States has many powers, but not this one.”