EU rebuffs idea of recognizing Jerusalem as Netanyahu visits

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders during a breakfast meeting with EU foreign ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, Pool)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second left, participates in a meeting with European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (Eric Vidal, Pool Photo via AP)
European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address a media conference at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, right, reaches out to shake hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after participating in a media conference at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a media conference with European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the European Union on Monday to back a new U.S. peace initiative in the Middle East, after President Donald Trump's unilateral decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital met with widespread condemnation and triggered clashes in the Palestinian territories.

Netanyahu, making the first official visit by an Israeli premier to the EU's Brussels headquarters in 22 years, told reporters that recognizing Jerusalem merely stated the reality on the ground. He said he expected many European countries to follow Trump's lead.

But EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who chaired talks between Netanyahu and EU foreign ministers, said no European leaders plan to adopt the U.S. president's position.

Netanyahu insisted that, in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, "what President Trump has done is put facts squarely on the table. Peace is based on reality."

"Jerusalem is Israel's capital, no one can deny it. It doesn't obviate peace, it makes peace possible," he said.

The Israeli leader added that he believed most European countries would now "move their embassies to Jerusalem, recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital."

Reacting to Netanyahu's remarks, Mogherini said EU ministers were concerned about Trump's move.

"We do not wish to see a discredited U.S. administration when it comes to the negotiations in the Middle East," she said.

As far as EU member countries relocating their embassies in Israel, Mogherini was quick to disabuse Netanyahu of the idea.

"He can keep his expectations for others, because from the European Union member states' side, this move will not come," she said.

Nevertheless, Mogherini and other ministers were impatient to hear details of any U.S. peace initiative in the pipeline. The EU's top diplomat said the time-frame for any new plan and who might be involved do not appear to have been worked out.

"Both the horizon and the framework appear still to be determined," Mogherini said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: "They've announced to us some kind of American initiative. We've been waiting for several months. If it's not the case, then perhaps the European Union should take the initiative, but it's too early to say."

"Everyone knows that the resolution of the Middle East crisis goes through negotiations and the recognition of two states," he said.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said Jerusalem "could be the capital of Israel and a future Palestinian state, but that has to be negotiated between the two parties."

Reynders said that as the biggest aid donor to the Palestinians and a major partner of Israel, the European Union has "a particular role to play" in encouraging a political solution to the conflict.

___

Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.

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