10 Dec 2017

French President Emmanuel Macron has criticised a US decision to call Jerusalem the capital of Israel, while urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to end the construction of illegal settlements.

In a joint press conference after meeting Netanyahu in the French capital, Macron urged the Israeli leader to negotiate with the Palestinians.

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“France remains convinced that the only solution in accordance to international law is to enable the establishment of two states living side by side in peace – and this can only happen through negotiations,” he said on Sunday.

“I invite the prime minister to make courageous gestures regarding the Palestinians and to overcome the current deadlock.”

Netanyahu’s visit to Paris came four days after US President Donald Trump ignored widespread warnings by the international community as he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and announced plans to move his country’s embassy to the city.

The unilateral move was sharply condemned by leaders across the world, including in Europe, and led to deadly clashes across the occupied Palestinian territories and major protests elsewhere.

Commenting on Trump’s decision, Macron expressed his deep disapproval because “it contradicts international law”.

He also called on Israel to “freeze settlement building” as a gesture of peace.

But Netanyahu said that Trump’s recognition merely recognised realities on the ground, adding that Palestinians must accept Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Netanyahu once again said Jerusalem has always been the capital of the state of Israel.

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“The sooner the Palestinians come to grips with this reality, the sooner we’ll move towards peace,” he said at the press conference.

“This is why I think President Trump’s announcement was so historic and so important for peace,” he added, saying that there is a “serious effort underway” by the US administration “on the quest for peace”.

Responding to Macron’s calls for negotiations, Netanyahu said he has more than once reached out to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, said there was no doubt that the decision on Jerusalem dominated the meeting between Macron and Netanyahu.

“Macron said that, for him, the only way forward is for Israelis and Palestinians to come together and address the question of Jerusalem in talks towards a two-state solution,” she said.

“But it’s very hard to see how the Israeli prime minister would want to go forward with that after the remarks he made today.”

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Beyond the issue of Jerusalem, the two leaders discussed a series of other topics, including Iran’s role in the Middle East.

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Netanyahu called Iran “the main source of aggression in the region”, saying it was building up its military capabilities in both Syria and Lebanon, and claimed that a number of Arab states were beginning to agree with this position.

“Many of the Arab countries now recognise that Israel is not their enemy, but their ally to fight the two main sources of terrorism in the region, namely Daesh [ISIL] and Iran.”

During the press conference, Macron announced he will visit Israel in 2018.

After visiting Paris, Netanyahu will travel to Brussels, where he is scheduled to meet Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief.

Just like Macron, Mogherini has been critical of the US decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and recognise the city as the capital of Israel.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

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