Netanyahu faces pressure in Europe amid Jerusalem protests

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he leaves the Elysee Palace on Sunday in Paris. (AFP)
Updated 11 December 2017
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Netanyahu faces pressure in Europe amid Jerusalem protests

BRUSSELS: Israel’s leader faces renewed pressure from Europe on Monday to reboot the Middle East’s moribund peace process following widespread criticism of the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be in Brussels for an informal breakfast with EU foreign ministers who will urge him to “resume meaningful negotiations,” according to the bloc’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini.
The talks come after French President Emmanuel Macron met Netanyahu in Paris on Sunday and called on him to freeze settlement building and to re-engage with Palestinians following widespread protests over the US move.
Last week’s decision by the administration of US President Donald Trump upended decades of US diplomacy and broke with international consensus.
Speaking alongside Netanyahu on Sunday, Macron again condemned the decision as “contrary to international law and dangerous for the peace process.”
“I urged the prime minister to show courage in his dealings with the Palestinians to get us out of the current dead end,” Macron said after talks in Paris with the Israeli leader.
“Peace does not depend on the United States alone... it depends on the capacity of the two Israeli and Palestinian leaders to do so,” the French leader said.
Netanyahu has praised Trump’s decision as “historic” and he explained Sunday that Jerusalem “has always been our capital and it has never been the capital of any other people.”
“It has been the capital of Israel for 3,000 years, it has been the capital of the Jewish state for 70 years. We respect your history and your choices and we know that as friends you respect ours. I think this is also central for peace,” he said.
“The sooner the Palestinians come to grips with this reality, the sooner we’ll move toward peace.”
Before leaving Israel, Netanyahu had taken aim at what he called Europe’s “hypocrisy,” for condemning Trump’s statement, but not “the rockets fired at Israel or the terrible incitement against it.”
Pointedly, Macron began his pre-prepared remarks with a clear condemnation “with the greatest of clarity of all forms of attacks in the last hours and days against Israel.”
Despite the obvious differences between the 39-year-old French leader and the Israeli hard-liner, there were also attempts to show they had developed a good early working relationship and held common views.
“Does this mean Emmanuel Macron and me agree on everything? No, not all of it, but we’re working it,” Netanyahu said at one point, joking later: “The lunch in the Elysee is superb, the conversation is superb too.”
The two countries are keen to reset ties after often difficult exchanges under ex-president Francois Hollande.

Most EU members, including the bloc’s biggest countries, have expressed alarm over the Trump administration’s policy shift.
Mogherini has warned the decision on Jerusalem “has the potential to send us backwards to even darker times than the ones we’re already living in.”
Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Friday, she repeated Europe’s stance that “the only realistic solution” for peace was two states — Israel and Palestine — with Jerusalem as the capital of both and the borders returned to their status before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
“It is in Israel’s security interest to find a lasting solution to this decades-long conflict,” she added.
But the 28-member block is not unified on the issue — Hungary, Greece, Lithuania and the Czech Republic in particular favor warmer ties with Israel.
Last week Hungary broke ranks to block a joint statement from the EU that was critical of Washington’s Jerusalem shift.
Trump’s announcement on Wednesday has been followed by days of protests and clashes in the Palestinian territories.
Four Palestinians were killed either in clashes or from Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.
Tens of thousands have also protested in Muslim and Arab countries, including Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia.
Further protests were held in Lebanon, Indonesia, Egypt and the Palestinian territories on Sunday.
Macron was also asked if France would attempt to launch another peace initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following failed efforts in the past.
“There’s a desire by the Americans to mediate which remains and I don’t want to condemn it ab initio (from the beginning),” he said. “We need to wait for the next few weeks, the next months to see what will be proposed.
“And I think we have to wait to see whether the interested parties accept it or not.”
Netanyahu was an outspoken critic of efforts by former French president Hollande to push a Middle East peace process.


Erdogan faces biggest challenge in tight Turkey polls

Updated 13 min 28 sec ago
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Erdogan faces biggest challenge in tight Turkey polls

ANKARA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday faces the biggest ballot box challenge of his 15-year grip on Turkey, seeking to overcome a revitalized opposition against the background of an increasingly troubled economy.
A self-styled heavyweight champion of campaigning, Erdogan has won successive elections since his Islamic-rooted ruling party came to power in 2002, transforming Turkey with growth-orientated economic policies, religious conservatism and an assertive stance abroad.
But he appears to have met some kind of match in his main presidential rival Muharrem Ince, a fiery orator from the left of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) who has been unafraid to challenge Erdogan on his own terms.
The intrigue is deepened by the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections on the same day under controversial constitutional changes spearheaded by Erdogan which will hand the new Turkish president enhanced powers and scrap the office of prime minister.
The vote takes place almost two years after the failed coup aimed at ousting Erdogan from power, a watershed in its modern history which prompted Turkey to launch the biggest purge of recent times under a state of emergency that remains in place.
Some 55,000 people have been arrested in a crackdown whose magnitude has sparked major tensions with Ankara’s Western allies.
Only a knockout first round victory for Erdogan and a strong parliamentary majority for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will be seen as an unequivocal victory for the Turkish leader.
And many analysts believe Ince can force a second round on July 8, while AKP risks losing its parliamentary majority in the face of an unprecedented alliance between four opposition parties.
“This is not the classical opposition that he has been facing for 15 years and which he more or less succeeded in managing and marginalizing,” said Elize Massicard of the French National Center for Scientific Research.
“It’s a new political dynamic that has grown in magnitude,” she said.
The opposition was already boosted by the relatively narrow victory of the “Yes” campaign in the April 2017 referendum on the constitutional changes.
Most opinion polls — to be treated with caution in Turkey — suggest Erdogan will fall short of 50 percent in the first round.
Erdogan remains by far Turkey’s most popular politician and inspires sometimes near-fanatical support in the Anatolian interior, where he is credited with transforming lives through greater economic prosperity.
“A great Turkey needs a strong leader,” says the slogan on election posters of Erdogan plastered across Turkey.
But the elections come at a time when Turkey is undergoing one of its rockiest recent economic patches despite high growth, with inflation surging to 12.15 percent and the lira losing 20 percent against the dollar this year.
Erdogan brought the elections forward from November 2019 in what many analysts saw as a bid to have them over with before the economy nosedived.
The opposition has sought to play on signs of Erdogan fatigue and also echoed Western concerns that freedom of expression has declined drastically under his rule.
For the first time, Erdogan has been forced to react in the election campaign as the opposition set the pace.
He had to deny quickly when Ince accused him of meeting the alleged architect of the 2016 failed coup, Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan promised to lift Turkey’s two-year state of emergency only after the CHP had vowed the same.
“The opposition is able to frame the debate in the election and this is a new thing for Turkish politics,” Asli Aydintasbas, fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) said.
“A party that has been in power for so long is, in an economic downturn, going to experience a loss (in support) and lose its hegemony over politics,” she added.
While the CHP sees itself as the guardian of a secular and united Turkey, Ince has also sought to win the support of Turkey’s Kurdish minority who make up around a fifth of the electorate.
A rally held by Ince in the Kurdish stronghold of Diyarbakir in the southeast attracted considerable attention. “A president for everyone,” reads his election slogan, over a picture of the affably smiling former physics teacher.
The opposition, which argues that Erdogan has been given a wildly disproportionate amount of media airtime in the campaign, has sometimes resorted to creative and even humorous campaign methods.
The Iyi (Good) Party of Meral Aksener, once seen as a major player but lately eclipsed by Ince, put out humorous messages on Google ads and even devised a computer game where light bulbs — the AKP symbol — get destroyed.
Selahattin Demirtas, the candidate of the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), has campaigned from his prison cell following his jailing in November 2016. He made an election speech on speaker phone through his wife’s mobile but was allowed give a brief election broadcast on state TV, albeit from prison.