Israeli, French leaders tangle over US Jerusalem decision

French President Emmanuel Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France on Sunday. (REUTERS)
Updated 11 December 2017
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Israeli, French leaders tangle over US Jerusalem decision

JERUSALEM: The French and Israeli leaders sparred verbally Sunday over the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while new violence rippled across the region following the move by US President Donald Trump.
In Jerusalem, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli security guard, seriously wounding him in the first attack in the volatile city since Trump’s pronouncement Wednesday. In Beirut, scores of Lebanese and Palestinian demonstrators clashed with security forces outside the heavily guarded US Embassy, and Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo demanded that the United States rescind the decision.
The move upended decades of US policy, and a longstanding international consensus, that the fate of Jerusalem be decided in negotiations. Israeli and Palestinian claims to the city’s eastern sector form the emotional core of their conflict, and Trump’s announcement was seen as siding with the Israelis and has drawn wide international criticism.
At a meeting in Paris with Israel’s visiting prime minister, French President Emmanuel Macron condemned recent violence against Israelis. But he also expressed “disapproval” of Trump’s decision, calling it “dangerous for peace.”
“It doesn’t seem to serve, in the short term, the cause of Israel’s security and the Israelis themselves,” Macron said.
He urged Israel to freeze its construction of settlements on occupied lands and called for other confidence-building measures toward the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has called Trump’s decision “historic,” said Israel has maintained its capital in the city for 70 years and the Jewish connection to Jerusalem goes back 3,000 years.
“Paris is the capital of France, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” he said. “We respect your history and your choices. And we know that as friends, you respect ours.”
“I think the sooner the Palestinians come to grips with this reality, the sooner we move toward peace,” he added.
The exchange between the two allies set the stage for what could be a tense meeting Monday for Netanyahu with European Union foreign ministers in Brussels. The Jerusalem issue and the moribund peace process are expected to be high on the agenda.
Last week, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned that Trump’s decision “has the potential to send us backward to even darker times than the one we are already living in.”
She also warned that Trump’s “move could diminish the potential role that the United States could play in the region and create more confusion around this.”
The meeting could be a precursor for what seems to be an emerging rift between Israel and the US on one side, and Europe and the Palestinians on the other.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said Trump’s decision has in effect disqualified the US from continuing in its role as the traditional mediator of peace talks. The Palestinians have spent recent days trying to rally Arab and broader international opposition to the decision.
After Abbas political adviser Majdi Khaldi said Saturday that the Palestinian leader won’t meet with Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region this month, a spokeswoman for Pence said Sunday it was “unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region.”
EU leaders, including Macron, have reiterated support for establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Trump has said he would support the idea if both sides endorse it — effectively giving Israel a veto over any peace proposal. Netanyahu’s government is dominated by opponents to Palestinian independence. Trump’s Middle East team, headed by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, has been working for months on a peace plan but has not yet released it.
Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed the area to its capital in a move that was not internationally recognized. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
East Jerusalem is home to Judaism’s most sacred site, as well as key holy places for Christians and Muslims. These conflicting claims have erupted into deadly bloodshed in the past.
A senior US official appealed to world leaders, especially in the Middle East, to calm regional tensions.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield told Arab journalists that Trump’s pronouncement was merely a “recognition of simple reality” that Israel’s government already is in Jerusalem.
He said the US was not prejudging final-status negotiations about the city’s final borders and expressed hope that world leaders understand the US is committed to moving forward with a peace plan he expects to be unveiled in the new year.
“This is a question of choice: Do leaders choose to speak to their peoples, to their regions in terms that reflect reality or in terms that incite or inflame?” he said. “We hope it’s the former.”
The Palestinians staged three “days of rage” after Trump’s dramatic announcement, with clashes breaking out in flashpoints across the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, and Gaza militants firing rockets into Israel. Four people in Gaza were killed. In the West Bank, there were dozens of injuries, but no deaths.
There were indications that Sunday’s stabbing at the Jerusalem bus station was motivated by Trump’s move, although police did not officially confirm it.
They said the attacker was a 24-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank city of Nablus. Israeli media identified him as Yassin Abu Al-Qarah, who posted on his Facebook page in recent days about Jerusalem, saying “our blood is devoted” to the holy city. Comments on his profile called him a hero for the alleged attack.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the guard sustained a serious wound to his upper body and the attacker was apprehended.
Palestinian youths also clashed in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, hurling stones at Israeli soldiers, who fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas.
In Beirut, Lebanese security forces broke up the protest outside the US Embassy after demonstrators pelted them with stones. After a rowdy start, the protest drew several hundred people and became more peaceful, with demonstrators chanting and singing.
Clashes resumed in the afternoon, with security forces chasing and arresting a handful of protesters and lobbing tear gas. Lebanon is home to 450,000 Palestinian refugees, nearly 10 percent of the population.
In a resolution long on rhetoric but short on concrete actions, Arab foreign ministers demanded the recognition decision be rescinded and urged the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution condemning Trump’s decision. They acknowledged that Washington would most likely veto it.
If the US vetoes such a resolution, the Arabs would seek a similar resolution in the UN General Assembly, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Malki told a news conference in Cairo.
With few options for the Palestinians, and the Arab world preoccupied by other crises, Arab willingness to press the issue may be limited. In Paris, Netanyahu talked about his quiet but improving relations with Arab countries that look to Israel as an ally against Iran.
“There is in this a blessing, because this could help pave the way to an ultimate peace between us and our Palestinian neighbors and between us and the rest of the Arab world,” he said.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, defended Trump’s move.
“For those who want to say this is a bad idea, I’ll tell you: Ask us five or 10 years from now if you still think it’s a bad idea. Because I really do think this is going to move the ball in the peace process,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union.”


Arab delegations arrive in Beirut for economic summit

Updated 11 min 3 sec ago
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Arab delegations arrive in Beirut for economic summit

  • Hariri expresses regret over Libya’s absence and confirms that fraternal relations remain stronger than ever
  • Lebanon has reportedly invested $10 million into the event even as it grapples with dire economic woes

BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri expressed deep regret for the absence of a Libyan delegation at an Arab Economic Summit taking place in Lebanon later this week.

Hariri was speaking at the Union of Arab Chambers (UAC) headquarters in Beirut on Wednesday.

“Good ties with brothers must prevail,” he said. “We are hoping for this summit to result in practical recommendations for promoting and raising living standards among all Arabs. What makes the summit on Sunday very important is that it will be the first to be held after the launch of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.”

Libya boycotted the summit after it said members of the Amal militia had disrespected the Libyan flag.

Addressing representatives from several Arab countries, Hariri called for updating decades-old local laws and enabling citizens to travel freely between Arab countries.

He also shed light on the importance of women taking part in politics and national economic development, “as they are capable of mitigating political conflicts.”

Lebanon has reportedly invested $10 million into the event even as it grapples with dire economic woes. 

Among the talking points of this year’s summit was poverty.

“The summit is being held amid an atmosphere of change, shifting alliances, a worrying global economic scene and tough local economic conditions,” said Mohammed Choucair, president of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture.

He called for “immunizing the Arab economy through implementing signed projects, facilitating trade and investment among Arab countries and encouraging creative initiatives.” Many, however, feel the country is not in any position to be funding nor hosting such an event.

“It has been eight months almost and still we have no government,” said Omar Itani, a small corner shop owner feeling the pinch as a result of the economic downturn plaguing the country.

“They spend all this money on hosting a summit, while our homes are getting flooded and roads being pulled apart by these storms. Wouldn’t it be better to use the money to help us citizens?”

Economy and Trade Minister Raed Khoury called on enhancing private sector participation and growth rates.

“The public sector must involve companies from the private sector, as well as banks and funds, in the financing process to help raise growth rates, which slowed considerably in the wake of the Syrian refugee influx,” he said.

Kamal Hassan Ali, assistant secretary-general at the Arab League, and Mohammed Abdo, UAC president, also spoke at the event.

Delegations of Arab ambassadors and delegates had begun arriving into the capital ahead of the weekend summit, including a Saudi delegation headed by Hussein Al-Shawish, economic adviser at the Finance Ministry, a Kuwaiti delegation and a Moroccan delegation, headed by the Moroccan Ambassador to Egypt Ahmed Al-Tazi, who said that Morocco would be represented by Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

Lebanon hosted two Arab League summits in 1956 and 2002. Economic and social development summits previously took place in Kuwait in 2009, Sharm El-Sheikh in 2011 and Riyadh in 2013. The 2015 summit, which was scheduled to take place in Tunis, was canceled amid security concerns.

Early in the third quarter of 2018, there were reports that Lebanon was teetering on the brink of economic collapse. Economists said the catalyst was the failure to form a government.

Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh said the country would launch an electronic platform to enhance share and goods trading, “thus promoting the market to attract liquidity from Lebanon and abroad.”

He said: “We will continue supporting the digital economy, for it is an important sector with a bright future and it highly benefits Lebanon. In 2018, our studies showed that the economic growth was between 1 and 1.5 percent, while in the region, it was at 2 percent. We would have been able to reach the 2-percent rate if the government had been formed on time.”