Defiant Netanyahu travels to ‘lion’s den’

Cold receptions are expected in Brussels and Paris after Trump's Jerusalem decision.

December 10, 2017 02:34
3 minute read.
Netanyahu state visit to France

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sarah Netanyahu boarding the flight to Paris France. (photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left on Saturday night for a two-day trip to Paris and Brussels, going from the warmth of US President Donald Trump’s embrace of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to the cold of what one diplomatic official described as the “lion’s den.”

Outside of the Muslim world, the capitals of Western Europe have been the most critical of Trump’s decision, with French President Emmanuel Macron calling it “regrettable,” and the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini saying that it “has the potential to send us backward to even darker times than the ones we are already living in.”

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Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Macron in Paris on Sunday, and with Mogherini, as well as the 28 EU foreign ministers meeting for their monthly meeting, in Brussels on Monday.

 Before boarding his plane, Netanyahu said that while he respects 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 premier said he was “not prepared to accept this hypocrisy,” and that at the EU forum “I will present Israel's truth without fear and with head held high."

Netanyahu was last in Paris in July, when he met Macron during events commemorating the round-up of French Jews during the Holocaust. The two men also spoke on the phone in late November about the crisis in Lebanon.

An Israeli prime minister has not traveled to Brussels, the heart of the EU, in 22 years.

Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, and the ramifications of the policy shift, are expected to be a dominant issue during the meetings. Various EU leaders have slammed Trump for the Jerusalem-recognition move, saying that by doing so he has taken Israel’s side on the Jerusalem issue.

The EU has for years adopted the Palestinian position on the matter, saying east Jerusalem needs to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Despite Mogherini’s tough words about the recognition, the EU foreign ministers did not immediately issue a condemnation of the move, because of opposition from Hungary and the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic – a strong ally of Israel inside the EU – followed Trump’s recognition by announcing that it was recognizing west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists in Paris protested on Saturday against Netanyahu’s visit, holding Palestinian flags and pictures of Macron branded as an “accomplice.” Protests also took place in numerous capitals over the weekend, including in Berlin, Beirut, London, Mogadishu, Amman and Tehran, as well as in Istanbul.

The Turkish daily Hurriyet quoted a presidential source as saying that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Macron spoke by phone on Saturday and agreed to “close cooperation” on the Jerusalem issue.

According to Huriyet, the two presidents “agreed to continue efforts to convince the US to reconsider its decision.”

Erdogan has called for an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss the matter. Observers in Jerusalem say that the Turkish president is trying to “ride” the issue into a leadership position on the Arab and Muslim street, similar to what he did following the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010 when he became the temporary darling of the Muslim world for his tough rhetoric and confrontational approach to Israel.

Erdogan also spoke on the phone with the presidents of Lebanon, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan on Saturday regarding the issue. Israel has strong ties with both Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

One senior diplomatic official said that Netanyahu’s visit to Paris and Brussels will undoubtedly be “hot,” and that the prime minister is “furious” at Mogherini for her comments.

According to assessments in Jerusalem, there are influential voices in the EU saying that this is an opportunity to “provide an alternative” and to initiate a peace plan of their own, perhaps reviving the French initiative that died earlier this year when presidents François Hollande of France and Barack Obama of the US left office.

Netanyahu, according to diplomatic sources, has sought a meeting with all the EU foreign ministers for months, but had to overcome initial skepticism on their part.

He is expected to “stand up” to the Europeans, criticizing their “obsession” over the settlements and telling them that they are feeding Palestinian intransigence by giving the impression that a solution can be imposed on Israel from the outside.

Mogherini announced last week that she invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to meet the foreign ministers at their monthly parley next month.

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