Israel bars visit by U.S. Democratic lawmakers

FILE PHOTO: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) holds a news conference to discuss legislation creating "a federal grant program to help local governments invest in waste reduction initiatives", at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert/File Photo

By Rami Ayyub and Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Israel will bar a visit by two of its sharpest critics in the U.S. Congress, Democrats Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who planned to tour the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the country’s deputy foreign minister said on Thursday.

“The decision has been made, the decision is not to allow them to enter,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Israel’s Reshet Bet Radio.

U.S. President Donald Trump had earlier urged Israel on Thursday not to allow the visit by Tlaib and Omar, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and members of the Democratic party’s progressive wing.

FILE PHOTO: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) questions Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan as he testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on "Trump Administration's Child Separation Policy" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) questions Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan as he testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on “Trump Administration’s Child Separation Policy” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

The pair have voiced support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. Under Israeli law, backers of the BDS movement can be denied entry to Israel.

Trump has vented in recent months against Omar, Tlaib and two other Democratic congresswomen of color, accusing them of hostility to Israel in what has widely been seen as a drumming up of Republican votes for his 2020 reelection bid.

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit,” he tweeted on Thursday. “They are a disgrace!”

No date had been formally announced for the congresswomen’s trip, but sources familiar with the planned visit said it could begin at the weekend.

Israel’s ambassador in the United States, Ron Dermer, said last month Tlaib and Omar would be let in, out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Political commentators said a reversal of Israel’s original intention to approve the legislators’ entry likely stemmed from a desire to mirror Trump’s hard line against them.

An Israeli official said earlier on Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior members of his cabinet held consultations on Wednesday on a “final decision” about the visit.

Denying entry to elected U.S. officials could further strain relations between Netanyahu, who has highlighted his close ties with Trump in his current re-election campaign, and the Democratic leadership in Congress.

HOLY SITE

A planned tour by the two lawmakers of the holy compound in Jerusalem that houses al-Aqsa mosque, and which is revered by Jews as the site of two biblical Jewish temples, turned into an issue of contention, according to sources familiar with preparations for the visit.

The flashpoint site is in an area of Jerusalem that Israel captured along with the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally.

An official in Israel’s internal security ministry said any visit by Tlaib and Omar to the complex, revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount, would require Israeli security protection.

Violence erupted there on Sunday between Israeli police and Palestinians amid tensions over visits by Jewish pilgrims on a day when the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av overlapped.

Tlaib, 43, who was born in the United States, draws her roots to the Palestinian village of Beit Ur Al-Fauqa in the West Bank. Her grandmother and extended family live in the village.

Omar, who immigrated to the United States from Somalia as a child, represents Minnesota’s fifth congressional district.

In February, Omar, 37, apologized after Democratic leaders condemned remarks she made about the pro-Israel lobby in the United States as using anti-Semitic stereotypes.

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Makini Brice in Washington; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Frances Kerry)

Pompeo, in first, accompanies Israeli PM to Jerusalem’s Western Wall

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visit the Western Wall Tunnels in Jerusalem's Old City March 21, 2019. Abir Sultan/ Pool via REUTERS

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accompanied Israel’s prime minister on a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on Thursday in the first such gesture since Washington recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, angering Palestinians.

The ancient Western Wall, the most sacred prayer site in Judaism, is located in the eastern part of the city that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally.

Israel has long considered all of Jerusalem as its eternal, indivisible capital, while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state they seek in territory Israel took in the June 1967 war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman touch the stones of the Western Wall during a visit to the site in Jerusalem's Old City March 21, 2019. Abir Sultan/ Pool via REUTERS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman touch the stones of the Western Wall during a visit to the site in Jerusalem’s Old City March 21, 2019. Abir Sultan/ Pool via REUTERS

Shortly after entering office in January 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump visited the Western Wall, though without Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Later that year Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy and officially recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, though making clear that he was not prejudging a settlement on where the city’s borders should be.

Since that shift, the U.S. ambassador to Israel has paid visits to the Western Wall along with Netanyahu. Pompeo suggested that his own visit as the top U.S. diplomat in Netanyahu’s presence was significant.

“I think it’s symbolic that a senior American official goes there with the prime minister of Israel,” he told reporters prior to arriving in the walled Old City.

The Western Wall is a remnant of the compound of a Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The elevated plaza above it is the Noble Sanctuary, the third holiest site in Islam, containing the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

Pompeo, Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador David Friedman together approached the wall and each leaned against its massive stones with one hand. Pompeo then placed a prayer note in between the stones, as is customary.

Before going to the wall, he visited the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.

Pompeo, now on a Middle East tour, visited Kuwait before Israel and is due to proceed to Lebanon. His trip to Israel, three weeks before a closely contested election, was portrayed in local media as a Trump administration boost for the right-wing Netanyahu.

(Reporting by Rami Amichay; Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

Australian government discusses moving Israel embassy to Jerusalem

FILE PHOTO: The new Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a news conference in Canberra, Australia August 24, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s government met on Tuesday to discuss whether to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, two sources familiar with the matter said, a decision that would break with decades of policy and risk angering Asian neighbors.

“Cabinet met today and the issue of moving the Israeli embassy was discussed. The decision is still pending,” said one of the sources who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Prime Minster Scott Morrison in October said he was “open” to moving the embassy to Jerusalem, following the lead of U.S. President Donald Trump.

The United States opened a new embassy in Jerusalem in May, a move that delighted Israel, infuriated Palestinians and upset the wider Arab world and Western allies.

The Australian newspaper reported several senior cabinet members were leaning toward recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital while stopping short of moving the embassy.

Jerusalem’s status is a major obstacle to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector that it annexed after a 1967 war, as its capital.

The Australian newspaper said a decision could be announced this week.

By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Morrison would be hoping to keep his conservative backbench happy but it would likely anger neighbors, including Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.

The Palestinian question is sensitive in Indonesia and it has refused to sign a free trade agreement with Australia until it confirms its plans toward Israel.

Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the country. Palestinians feel equally strongly, saying that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

(Reporting by Colin Packham and Byron Kaye; Editing by Robert Birsel)

U.S. Jerusalem embassy lies ‘at the end of the world’

FILE PHOTO: Construction site is seen near the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo

By Stephen Farrell and Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – “On the edge of wilderness.” That is how one of Israel’s most famous authors once described the area where the new U.S. Embassy opened in Jerusalem on Monday. Others remember it very differently.

Standing in the valley below the hillside where Israeli and U.S. flags were being hoisted, Palestinians said the land used to be the fields of Arab villagers, who grew fig trees, grapes and wheat there.

Everything about Jerusalem is contested, and always has been. The status of the holy city is at the heart of a bitter conflict.

Upon one thing Israelis and Palestinians are agreed: the decision of a global superpower to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – on Israel’s 70th anniversary – is a definitive moment. But there agreement ends.

Israelis believe that President Donald Trump’s administration lends weight to their long-held position that Jerusalem is the ancient capital of the Jewish people, and home to sacred sites such as the Western Wall and the Jewish temples of antiquity.

But Palestinians are outraged at the U.S. stance on a city that is home to more than 300,000 Arabs, and is the third holiest city in Islam.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to meet American officials, and said the United States can no longer be regarded as an honest broker.

And as a microcosm of the wider argument the little patch of land chosen for the embassy has its own bundle of complexities, sitting as it does in Arnona, now a mostly Jewish neighborhood south of Jerusalem’s Old City.

FILE PHOTO: A worker on a crane hangs a U.S. flag next to an Israeli flag, next to the entrance to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A worker on a crane hangs a U.S. flag next to an Israeli flag, next to the entrance to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

NO MAN’S LAND

The site straddles the line between West Jerusalem and an area known as No Man’s Land, which was created at the end of the 1948 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

After a 1949 armistice Israeli forces pulled back to the west of an agreed line, and Jordanians to the east. In some areas there was a space in between that became known as No Man’s Land.

One of those areas was an enclave between the Jewish neighborhood of Talpiot and Arab villages to the east.

The area remained a demilitarized zone until the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan, later expanding the limits of Jerusalem and annexing some of the Arab villages into the city.

The move was not recognized internationally and the Palestinians continue to claim East Jerusalem, demanding that it should be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

In February, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert conceded that the embassy site “is located partly in West Jerusalem and what’s called the no man’s land”.

This was confirmed by a senior United Nations official, who was not authorized to speak publicly given the sensitivity of the issue.

“There is some uncertainty about exactly where the line runs through the property, but I don’t think there is any uncertainty about the fact that the line runs through it,” he told Reuters.

“Under international law it is still occupied territory, because neither party had any right to occupy the area between the lines.”

When Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital he left the door open for Israel and the Palestinians to divide the city between them by stating he was not taking a position on “the resolution of contested borders”.

But Nabil Shaath, a veteran Palestinian diplomat, said the embassy’s relocation could complicate future peace talks. “Setting the embassy on No Man’s Land is really a violation of the demographic and geographic division of Jerusalem,” he said last week.

However Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli peace negotiator, said the location of the embassy would be inconsequential were Palestinians and Israelis to revive the peace process.

“Ultimately if we have to reach arrangements in Jerusalem, as I hope we will do, then we will have to set a very precise line and we will have to compensate,” Beilin told Reuters.

END OF THE WORLD

On a clear day, the Dead Sea and Jordan can be seen from the street that runs above the embassy compound.

That street was once the edge of Talpiot, a neighborhood built in the 1920s by newly arrived Jewish immigrants and which housed such figures as S.Y. Agnon, the father of modern Hebrew literature and a Nobel Laureate in 1966.

Decades later, one of Israel’s most famed writers, Amos Oz, wrote in his 2002 autobiography, ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ of his own childhood memories of Talpiot.

There Oz visited his uncle Joseph Klausner, a prominent scholar and rival of Agnon, and describes his aunt and uncle on a Saturday evening walk down their street standing above the valley:

“At the end of the cul-de-sac which was also the end of Talpiot, the end of Jerusalem, and the end of the settled land: beyond stretched the grim, barren hills of the Judean desert. The Dead Sea sparkled in the distance like a platter of molten steel … I can see them standing there, at the end of the world, on the edge of wilderness.”

But Mohammad Jadallah, 96, a Palestinian from the village of Sur Baher – across the valley from the site – says he remembers his father’s generation tending the soil on that spot.

“Everything has changed. Now, it’s the existence of the U.S. embassy here – they are against the Arabs and the Palestinians,” he said.

(For a graphic on ‘U.S. embassy site in Jerusalem’ click https://tmsnrt.rs/2wtlDCi )

(Additional reporting by Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by David Stamp)

Israeli troops kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes

An Israeli border policeman takes up position during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at a protest against Trump's decision on Jerusalem, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank March 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man during clashes in the occupied West Bank on Friday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

An Israeli military spokesman said the man had been about to throw a fire-bomb at the troops, who were responding to an immediate threat when they shot him. He added that the incident in the city of Hebron would be reviewed.

U.S.-led peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014 and a new push by President Donald Trump’s administration to restart negotiations has shown little progress so far.

Tensions between the sides have risen since Trump declared on Dec. 6 that he recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Outraged Palestinian leaders said Washington could no longer take the lead in peace efforts but Israel has said the United States should remain peace-broker.

Trump’s announcement and the planned move in May of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – home to sites holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians – reversed decades of U.S. policy on the city. Its status is one of the biggest obstacles to reaching a peace agreement.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. Israel says the entire city is its indivisible, and eternal capital.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Maayan Lubell; editing by David Stamp)

Alienation drives young Palestinians beyond politics

A protester holds a Palestinian flag as he poses for a photograph at the scene of clashes with Israeli troops near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, January 19, 2018.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Miriam Berger

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Confrontations between young Palestinians and Israeli soldiers have taken on a life of their own since Palestinian leaders called for protests against Donald Trump’s decision to treat Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

While Hamas, Fatah and other groups call for a weekly show of strength on Fridays, dozens of stone-throwers turn out along the border between Gaza and Israel every day, even when, as last Friday, a protest is called off due to bad weather.

Some wear the colors of the various factions vying to lead the drive for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, but others have no affiliation, a sign of alienation that makes the political situation more volatile.

“I am not against any of the factions, but we are grown-ups and are intelligent and we see that the ongoing division is weakening us all,” said a 28-year-old protester, referring to a renewed standoff between the Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah.

The two groups have long been rivals and have failed to achieve any lasting unity agreement in years of off-and-on negotiations. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah forces in 2007.

Conscious of the growing influence of the youth due to their ballooning numbers, both Hamas and Fatah have recently tried to court them, holding large, separate meetings in Gaza to convince them to back reconciliation.

But, as the daily scene on the border shows, young Palestinians are increasingly beyond reach, put off by a four-year stalemate in peace talks with Israel and little progress toward healing internal rifts.

Their growing frustration surfaces in social media criticism of their leaders that is met by with an increasingly authoritarian response.

The stone-throwers say the more alienated they feel, the greater the likelihood they will take to the streets to protest.

“We are hungry and at home we have no electricity and our fathers have no jobs. This can’t bring about anything except an explosion,” said a 23-year-old unemployed history graduate who gave his name as Ahmed.

Asked about the target of such an explosion, he said: “Against the Israeli occupation, because it bears prime responsibility for everything, even for the division between Hamas and Fatah.”

 

ELECTIONS?

Palestinian politicians have agreed to hold long-delayed elections in both territories this year as part of moves to end the schism that led to Hamas seizing control of Gaza in 2007 from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority based in the larger West Bank.

Whether they will materialize is unclear.

Palestinian security officials have over the past few years questioned many people, sometimes for weeks, about social media posts criticizing Fatah and Hamas, according to Palestinian human rights groups and New York-based Human Rights Watch.

In Gaza, most complaints center on electricity shortages that date back 11 years, with both groups seen at fault.

Slow unity efforts are another hot-button issue: some blame Hamas for balking at handing full control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority while others criticize Fatah for retaining salary cuts in Gaza.

Fatah is also faulted for the fact that its engagement in peace talks with Israel has brought little progress toward a Palestinian state and for keeping aging leaders in place.

People aged 15 to 29 make up a third of the population of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and partially blockaded Gaza strip and a disproportionate number of the many unemployed.

“There is no party that represents me or that I can say ‘this party speaks for me,'” said Oula Jabara, a university student in the occupied West Bank aged 20, who was a child when Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005.

Almost three quarters of university students and 69 percent of all 18 to 22-year-olds want Abbas to resign, compared with 59 percent of Palestinians aged 50 and above, a December poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed.

Hasan Faraj, the Secretary General of Fatah’s Youth Movement, declined to provide membership numbers, calling it an internal matter. He said the movement remained relevant with “tens of thousands” of official members, and more affiliated.

The lack of transparency underscores a common complaint by young people that party leaders do not think they count.

Of six people interviewed at protests against Trump’s Jerusalem move, none was prepared to say who they wanted to replace Abbas.

“Whoever it is will just be like the last,” said Taha, a 33-year-old cook who declined to give his last name and wore a mask to avoid identification by Israeli authorities.

“I don’t have faith in any of the parties.”

In the absence of political dialogue either within Palestinian factions or between them and Israel, many young Palestinians suffer in silence and some take to the streets.

Palestinian uprisings erupted in 1987 and in 2000, the latter after the failure of U.S.-sponsored peace talks. A build-up of grievances could spark a new one, but it would likely take broad public support among Palestinians and involvement by factions to keep it going.

“Non-affiliated youth may fuel an uprising, a short but aggressive one, but they can’t sustain it,” said Palestinian political analyst Akram Attallah.

Sixteen Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed in protests since Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement and hundreds of Palestinians have been injured, eight on the Gaza border on Friday alone, according to the territory’s health ministry.

A 13-year-old boy on the border said he had been hit twice by rubber bullets. His mother had warned him a third hit could be fatal and his father had beaten him to try to keep him away.

“I always find an excuse to slip out,” he said. “So what, I will be a martyr.”

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Philippa Fletcher)

Timing of Trump peace plan depends on Palestinians: Pence

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence touches the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City January 23, 2018.

By Jeff Mason

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday the timing of a long-awaited U.S. Middle East peace initiative depended on the return of Palestinians to negotiations.

President Donald Trump’s advisers have been working on the outlines of a plan for some time. But Palestinians ruled out Washington as a peace broker after the U.S. president’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The White House has been working with our partners in the region to see if we can develop a framework for peace,” Pence told Reuters in an interview in Jerusalem on the last leg of a three-day Middle East trip. “It all just depends now on when the Palestinians are going to come back to the table.”

Trump’s Jerusalem move angered the Palestinians, sparked protests in the Middle East and raised concern among Western countries that it could further destabilize the region. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as capital of a future state.

A White House official told reporters he hoped the plan would be announced in 2018.

“It’ll come out both when it’s ready and when both sides are actually willing to engage on it,” said the White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official acknowledged that the United States and the Palestinian leadership had not had any direct diplomatic contact since Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.

Pence said in the interview that he and the president believed the decision, under which the United States also plans to move its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, would improve peacemaking prospects.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official at the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said the Trump administration had dealt a death blow to any prospect for peace.

“The extremist positions of this U.S. administration and the biblical messianic message of Pence not only disqualified the U.S. as a peace broker but created conditions of volatility and instability in the region and beyond,” Ashrawi said in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Pence discussed the Jerusalem issue during talks with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday and Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday. He said the two leaders had agreed to convey to the Palestinians that the United States was eager to resume peace talks.

“We want them (the Palestinians) to know the door is open. We understand they’re unhappy with that decision but the president wanted me to convey our willingness and desire to be a part of the peace process going forward,” Pence said.

Asked if the Egyptians and Jordanians had agreed to pressure the Palestinians to return to talks, Pence said: “I wouldn’t characterize it as that.”

SUPPORTER OF NETANYAHU

The Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. It says the entire city is its eternal and indivisible capital.

Pence said the U.S. State Department would spell out details in the coming weeks about a plan to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem by the end of 2019.

Israeli media have speculated that a 2019 embassy move could help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win reelection in a vote scheduled for November of that year.

Pence said he admired Netanyahu’s leadership and appreciated his friendship. Asked if he hoped for the prime minister’s reelection, Pence said: “I’m a strong supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, but I don’t get a vote here.”

Pence toured Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial with Netanyahu on Tuesday before visiting the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites. He stood solemnly with his hand on the wall and left a note, as people who pray there traditionally do.

The vice president also pressed European leaders to heed Trump’s call to forge a follow-up agreement to the Iran nuclear deal established under President Barack Obama’s administration.

“At the end of the day, this is going to be a moment where the European community has to decide whether they want to go forward with the United States or whether they want to stay in this deeply flawed deal with Iran,” he said.

Asked if he thought the United States would succeed in getting that kind of agreement with its European allies, Pence said: “We’ll see.”

Trump said earlier this month the United States would withdraw from the agreement unless its flaws were fixed.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Ralph Boulton)

Abbas wins EU backing for Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem

European High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Brussels, Belgium, January 22,

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union assured President Mahmoud Abbas it supported his ambition to have East Jerusalem as capital of a Palestinian state, in the bloc’s latest rejection of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

At a meeting in Brussels with EU foreign ministers, Abbas repeated his call for East Jerusalem as capital as he urged EU governments to recognize a state of Palestine immediately, arguing that this would not disrupt negotiations with Israel on a peace settlement for the region.

While Abbas made no reference to Trump’s move on Jerusalem or U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the city on Monday, his presence at the EU headquarters in Brussels was seized on by European officials as a chance to restate opposition to Trump’s Dec. 6 decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Mogherini, in what appeared to be a veiled reference to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel, called on those involved in the process to speak and act “wisely”, with a sense of responsibility.

“I want to reassure President Abbas of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states,” Mogherini said.

Before Abbas’ arrival, she was more outspoken, saying: “Clearly there is a problem with Jerusalem. That is a very diplomatic euphemism,” in reference to Trump’s position.

Deputy German Foreign Minister Michael Roth told reporters that Trump’s decision had made peace talks harder but said all sides needed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Abbas also struck a more diplomatic tone than in his recent public remarks, including earlier this month when he said he would only accept a broad, internationally-backed panel to broker any peace talks with Israel.

“We are keen on continuing the way of negotiations,” Abbas said. “We are determined to reunite our people and our land.”

But his call for the European Union to immediately and officially recognize the state of Palestine was unlikely to be answered, two senior EU diplomats said.

SLOVENIAN DECISION?

While nine EU governments including Sweden and Poland already recognize Palestine, the 28-nation bloc says such recognition must come as part of a peace settlement.

Only Slovenia has recently raised the possibility of recognizing the state of Palestine. A parliamentary committee there is due to consider the issue on Jan. 31, but it remains unclear when the parliament could recognize Palestine.

That reflects the European Union’s dual role as the Palestinians’ biggest aid donor and Israel’s biggest trade partner, even if EU governments reject Israeli settlements on land Israel has occupied since a 1967 war – including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The European Union also wants the Palestinians to remain open to a U.S.-led peace plan, expected to be presented soon by Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East envoy and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

Abbas said there was “no contradiction between recognition (of Palestine) and the resumption of (peace) negotiations.”

Instead, France wants to push the European Union to offer closer trade ties through a so-called EU association agreement, an EU treaty covering unfettered access to the bloc’s 500 million consumers, aid and closer political and cultural ties.

“We want to say to Mahmoud Abbas that we want to move … towards an association agreement and to start the process already,” said France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

But offering an EU association agreement to the Palestinians was also fraught with difficulties, diplomats said.

Under EU rules, the agreements need to be agreed with sovereign states. France argues that the EU has an association agreement with Kosovo, whose independence is not recognized by all countries, including EU member Spain.

(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels and Marja Novak in Ljubljana, Editing by William Maclean)

President Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

U.S. President Donald Trump gives a statement on Jerusalem, during which he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as he appears with Vice President Mike Pence in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., December 6, 2017.

By Steve Holland and Miriam Berger

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – President Donald Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy on Wednesday and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in defiance of warnings from around the world that the gesture risks creating further unrest in the Middle East.

In a speech at the White House, Trump said his administration would begin a process of moving the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is expected to take years.

The status of Jerusalem — home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions — is one of the thorniest obstacles to reaching a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said. “While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”

Israel considers the city its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed in a move never recognized internationally.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump’s announcement as a “historic landmark” and urged other countries also to move their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem.

He said any peace deal with Palestinians must include Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This would be a non-starter for Palestinians if it means the entire city would be under Israeli control.

The Palestinians have said Trump’s move would mean the “kiss of death” to the two-state solution, envisaging a Palestinian state in territory – the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – that Israel took in 1967.

Ahead of Trump’s announcement, Washington’s allies in the region warned of dangerous repercussions.

Pope Francis called for Jerusalem’s status quo to be respected, saying new tension would further inflame world conflicts. China and Russia expressed concern the plans could aggravate Middle East hostilities. A Palestinian envoy said the decision was a declaration of war in the Middle East.

Trump said his move is not intended to tip the scale in favor of Israel and that any deal involving the future of Jerusalem would have to be negotiated by the parties.

He said he remained committed to the two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians if they parties want one.

Amid warnings of potential unrest in the Middle East, the president called on the region to take his message calmly and with moderation.

“There will of course be disagreement and dissent regarding this announcement—but we are confident that ultimately, as we work through these disagreements, we will arrive at a place of greater understanding and cooperation,” Trump said.

His announcement fulfills a core pledge of his election campaign last year

Trump said his move reflected the reality of Jerusalem as the center of Jewish faith and the fact that the city is the seat of the Israeli government.

Trump’s decision is likely to please his core supporters – Republican conservatives and evangelical Christians who comprise an important share of his political base.

He acted under a 1995 law that requires the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem. His predecessors, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, had consistently put off that decision to avoid inflaming tensions in the Middle East.

Trump signed a waiver delaying the embassy move from Tel Aviv since the United States does not have an embassy structure in Jerusalem to move into. A senior administration official said it could take three to four years to build one.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Matt Spetalnick and John Walcott in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Costas Pitas in London, Philip Pullella in Vatican City, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Beirut, Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alistair Bell)

U.S. pressure delays Israel’s ‘Greater Jerusalem’ bill

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks on a road in the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the occupied West Bank

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. pressure delayed an Israeli ministerial vote on Sunday on a proposed bill that Washington fears entails annexation of Jewish settlements near Jerusalem, an Israeli lawmaker said.

The “Greater Jerusalem” legislation would put some settlements in the occupied West Bank, built on land Palestinians seek for a future state and viewed as illegal by most countries, under the jurisdiction of Jerusalem’s municipality.

The bill, proposed by a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, was to have been submitted for approval on Sunday to a ministerial committee on legislation, a first step before a series of ratification votes in parliament.

But Likud lawmaker David Bitan, chairman of Netanyahu’s coalition in parliament, said a vote by the cabinet committee would be delayed because Washington told Israel the bill’s passage could impede U.S. efforts to revive peace talks that collapsed in 2014.

“There is American pressure that claims this is about annexation and that this could interfere with the peace process,” Bitan told Army Radio.

“The prime minister doesn’t think this is about annexation. I don’t think so either. We have to take the time to clarify matters to the Americans. Therefore, if the bill passes in a week, or in a month, it’s less problematic,” he said.

Proponents of the legislation say it falls short of formal land annexation to Israel but will enable some 150,000 settlers to vote in Jerusalem city elections. Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, a supporter of the bill, has said this would “ensure a Jewish majority in a united Jerusalem”.

Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the eastern sector it captured along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a 1967 Middle East war, has not won international recognition. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli media reports said the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, had conveyed misgivings about the legislation, under which the large Maale Adumim and Beitar Illit settlements would become part of a Greater Jerusalem municipality.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper quoted Netanyahu as telling cabinet ministers on Sunday: “The Americans turned to us and inquired what the bill was all about. As we have been coordinating with them until now, it is worth continuing to talk and coordinate with them.”

A U.S. embassy spokeswoman declined immediate comment.

Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians. Israel disputes that its settlements are illegal, citing historical, Biblical and political links to the territory, as well as security considerations.

 

 

(Editing by Catherine Evans)