Despite deep disagreement with US President Donald Trump’s recent announcement about Jerusalem, French President Emmanuel Macron made clear in Paris on Sunday that he has no intention now of floating an alternative peace plan to replace the one on which the US is working.
Following Wednesday’s announcement by Trump that the US now recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, some Palestinian officials have called for France and the European Union to step in and replace the US as chief mediator, arguing that Washington has removed itself as an honest broker.
Macron, speaking at a press conference alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made clear that Paris has no intention right now of reviving the French initiative, which died earlier this year when presidents Francois Hollande and Barack Obama left office.
The French president said he wanted to wait and see what the US would propose as part of a plan being worked on by a team led by Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner.
“The situation is already complicated enough without being aggravated by outside influences,” Macron said through a translator. “When an initiative has been announced, you must not multiply initiatives, because too many initiatives may be counterproductive.”
Macron said the US has declared its willingness to mediate between the sides, “so let’s see in the weeks and months ahead what they propose. They wish to play the role of the mediator, and it is up to the parties to say whether they accept that or not.”
Macron suggested to Netanyahu, who said in his opening remarks that there was a need to “give peace a chance,” that one way to do that would be to make a gesture toward the Palestinians. His suggestion for gestures was a settlement freeze
and recognition of the Palestinian Authority.
Earlier in the press conference, Netanyahu said, “The most important thing about peace is to recognize that the other side has the right to exist. I think that is what is holding up the peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” He said that one of the manifestations of the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist has been their consistent refusal to negotiate.
Netanyahu said his gesture to the Palestinians, one that he said he has offered “continuously,” is an invitation to PA President Mahmoud Abbas to sit down and negotiate.
“That is a gesture for peace,” he said. “Nothing could be simpler. If he wants peace, he will sit down and talk. End of speech.”
While the press conference was cordial, with Netanyahu referring to Macron as a friend and saying he is an important world leader, the differences between the two men over the Jerusalem issue was glaring.
Macron began the press conference by condemning the terrorist attack in Jerusalem. He then explained to Netanyahu his “disapproval” of Trump’s move, calling it a “contradiction of international law and dangerous to peace” because of the short-term instability it will cause.
Netanyahu disagreed, and opened up his comments by saying, “It is a pleasure to see you again in Paris – Paris is the capital of France; Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It has been the capital of Israel for 3,000 years and of the Jewish state for 70 years. We respect your history and your choices and we know that as a friend you respect ours.”
Netanyahu said recognition of Jerusalem was essential for the peace process because “what peace requires is to be built on the foundation of truth.”
Referring to efforts in the UN, in UNESCO and elsewhere to deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem
, Netanyahu said the city has always been the capital of the Jewish people, has never been the capital of any other nation, and that “the sooner the Palestinians come to grips with this reality, the sooner we will move toward peace.”
Netanyahu arrived in Paris early Sunday for a meeting with Macron at the Élysée Palace that lasted more than two hours. On Monday night, he flew to Brussels for a breakfast meeting with the 28 EU foreign ministers at their monthly parley and with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Despite their differences, Netanyahu said at the press conference with Macron that Israel and France are “partners in the quest for security, peace and prosperity,” and that Macron was one of the principle leaders championing the battle against terrorism.
Netanyahu and Macron covered a wide range of issues during their extended working lunch meeting, including the Iranian threat, Lebanon, Syria and battling global terrorism.
Netanyahu said that he and Macron agreed, “We must stop the main source of aggression in the Middle East, which is Iran.” He said Iran is “all over the place,” including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen and that Israel “will not tolerate” Iran trying to entrench itself militarily in Syria with forces in the land, air and sea, or to place precision-guided missiles in Lebanon.
The two leaders last met in Paris in July, on the occasion of a ceremony commemorating the Vel d’Hiv roundup of French Jews. The meeting on Sunday was scheduled against the backdrop of the crisis in Lebanon, and was intended for Macron to discuss with Netanyahu French involvement in it. Netanyahu and Macron had discussed the Lebanon crisis by phone in November.
Trump’s Jerusalem proclamation, however, changed the agenda. Macron was the first European leader to criticize the announcement, calling it “regrettable,’’ and writing on his Facebook page that “France does not approve the American decision.’’
Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Lille and other French cities demonstrated on Saturday against Trump’s declaration and against Netanyahu’s arrival. In Paris, some 400 demonstrators gathered in Place de la Republique on Saturday, carrying signs that read “Jerusalem is Palestine’s capital,’’ and “Shame on you Macron.’’
A source at the Elysee told The Jerusalem Post
that the meeting, which lasted longer than scheduled, was fruitful. “Last time, in July, it was mostly Netanyahu who spoke and Macron listened. This time it was the other way around – Macron spoke at length about his involvement in the Lebanon and the Saudi-Qatar crisis, with Netanyahu listening. Like last time, Netanyahu pulled out a red and black map – with ISIS influenced countries in red, Iran and its proxies at black,’’ the source said.
Speaking to Israeli reporters after the meeting, Netanyahu referred to the investigation of coalition chairman David Bitan, saying that the powerful Likud MK should be “considered innocent until proven innocent, like anybody else. I appreciate the work he’s been doing as head of the coalition.’’