Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday evening thanked the US administration for its tough stance on Iran, saying Washington stands on “the right side of history” for rejecting the nuclear deal and supporting Iranian protesters’ recent demonstrations against the regime.
At a joint press appearance with visiting US Vice President Mike Pence, Netanyahu lambasted European leaders for their responses to the recent protests across Iran, and called on world leaders to agree to the White House’s policy to demand substantial changes to the Iran nuclear deal, which six world powers signed with Tehran in 2015.
“I want to salute both President Trump and you, Mr. Vice President, for standing with the people of Iran, when so many in Europe and elsewhere, were shamefully silent,” Netanyahu said, standing alongside Pence at the Prime Minister’s Residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street.
“Some — and this is hard to believe — some actually hosted the regime’s mouthpieces, while its goons were throwing thousands of Iranian protesters into prison,” he said.
Netanyahu was apparently referring to the European Union hosting Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Brussels recently to discuss ways to maintain the nuclear deal. Brussels and Tehran are in favor of keeping the deal as is, while Washington and Jerusalem have called for either drastic changes or a total annulment of the deal.
“I share the belief that Iran’s radical regime will ultimately fall, and one day Iran’s people will win the freedom they so justly deserve,” the prime minister went on, minutes before he hosted Pence and his wife Karen for a private dinner. “And when that day comes, they will remember those who stood with them, and those who stood with their oppressors. You’re on the right side of history.”
Israel agrees with the US administration that the nuclear deal with Iran is “disastrous,” Netanyahu said, arguing that it paves Tehran’s path to a nuclear arsenal.
The EU has restated its opposition to US plans on Jerusalem during a visit to Brussels by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
"I want to reassure president Abbas of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital of two states," EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday (22 January).
She spoke alongside the Palestinian leader, who urged the EU to "swiftly recognise the state of Palestine".
"This would encourage the Palestinian people to keep hoping for peace and to wait until peace is brought about," Abbas said.
The meeting came in the wake of US president Donald Trump's decision, last year, to unilaterally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Mogherini referred to Trump's decision with disdain on two occasions on Monday, saying: "Clearly there is a problem with Jerusalem. That is a very diplomatic euphemism".
The White House, on the same day as the Abbas visit to the EU, sent vice president Mike Pence to Jerusalem to press its line.
Pence promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019 and delivered a hardline speech.
But Mogherini urged Abbas to keep working with the US on the Middle East Peace Process despite the setbacks.
"The United States alone would not make it [end the conflict]. The international community without the United States would not make it. We need to join forces," she said.
Trump has said he was preparing a "deal of the century" to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, with Belgium voicing EU readiness to see the proposals.
"What would be ideal would be to undertake a peace initiative together with the Americans," Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders said on Monday.
"President Trump announced an initiative some time ago. We're waiting for it, and the European Union is ready to work on an initiative that would go in the direction of two states," he said.
Monday was a significant day in the annals of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But rather than the conventional quarrels we have grown accustomed to, both violent and rhetoric, this day saw the two sides engage in what could be called a proxy diplomatic war.
Even though it currently appears distant, Israeli and Palestinian leaders know that sooner or later there will be another chapter in the peace process saga, and on Monday, they were battling over who would be in charge. The Israelis were working hard to secure a good starting position for when negotiations will resume, while the Palestinians were trying to organize a new sponsor of talks.
At the end of a long day, it appeared that Israel had won this round.
Due to the White House’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Palestinians no longer accept the US administration as honest brokers. Israel, however, remains adamant that the US is the only party that it can imagine presiding over peace talks, and is working hard to endear itself to the administration.
On Monday, Ramallah and Jerusalem sought to advance their positions with their respective patrons: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted US Vice President Mike Pence in Jerusalem, showering him with great honor and affection in a bid to cement Washington’s pro-Israel disposition. At the same time, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Brussels trying to woo the European Union, in the hope it would volunteer to replace Washington as the main sponsor of the peace process.
However, Abbas’s hope for the EU to replace the US as main guardian of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — something that, were it to happen, would constitute a dramatic change to the Palestinians’ benefit, as Brussels largely supports their positions — is much less likely to occur. (The EU envisions a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital.)
For one thing, Netanyahu has made it abundantly clear, on numerous occasions, that Jerusalem will accept only the US as a peace broker — not Russia, not China and not the UN, and certainly not the EU, which he considers particularly hostile to Israel.
“There is no alternative for American leadership in the diplomatic process,” he told Israeli ambassadors Sunday. “Whoever is not ready to talk with the Americans about peace – does not want peace.”
No effort will ever bring the two sides at the table if the international multilateral framework does not include the United States
The Europeans themselves are interested in playing a “central role” in a renewed peace process, Mogherini said Monday, but she also acknowledged that the US must remain an indispensable part of it.
What is needed, she maintained, is a “multilateral framework” that would include the Middle East Quartet — the EU, the US, the United Nations, and Russia — plus “a few Arab countries and possibly to Norway.”
“No effort will ever bring the two sides at the table if the international multilateral framework does not include the United States,” she declared. “The United States alone would not make it, the international community without the United States would not make it. We need to join forces.”
It will be interesting to see whether Ramallah uses this meeting as an opportunity to back down from its position and start again to engage constructively with Washington, or whether Abbas will continue to boycott the administration and look for other avenues to advance his statehood goal.
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