BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union on Tuesday urged Israel to share Jerusalem with the Palestinians as part of a Middle East peace agreement and make the holy city the capital of two states.
Reaffirming a position which the current Israeli government rejects, EU foreign ministers said genuine peace needs the resolution of the status of Jerusalem through negotiation.
Rejecting Israel’s annexation of the eastern half of the city, their statement said the EU would “not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties.”
Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed East Jerusalem and nearby suburbs, in a step never recognized internationally.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to office in March declaring that Jerusalem would remain the “undivided capital” of the Jewish state and has repeatedly ruled out including the future of the city in peace talks.
His predecessor, Ehud Olmert, had said Israel would have to give up parts of the city under a comprehensive peace deal.
The United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations all regard the status of Jerusalem as one of the core issues to be settled when and if peace negotiations resume between Israel and the Palestinians on a so-called “two-state solution.”
In Ramallah in the West Bank, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad seemed visibly moved the EU statement.
“I believe it’s a good day for international law, for international legitimacy, for justice and for our own people to begin to have a sense of hope about the future,” he told Reuters.
He expressed the hope that “this path is going to take us to freedom to be able to live like all peoples around the world as a free people with dignity in a country of our own on the territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem.”
Israel’s foreign ministry said it was pleased that the EU ministers had not endorsed “the extreme draft document presented by the Swedish presidency of the EU at the start of discussions” — a document which the EU has not made public.
“We can only welcome the fact that at the end of the process the voice of those responsible and reasonable EU states prevailed,” the foreign ministry in Jerusalem said.
However, it said Israel regretted that the EU “ignores the main obstacle to the achievement of a deal between Israel and the Palestinians —- the Palestinians’ refusal to return to the negotiating table.”
The status of Jerusalem — a city holy to three religions — has always been a highly sensitive issue in the Middle East peace process. The Palestinians want the eastern half as capital of a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Ministers recalled that the EU had never recognized the annexation of East Jerusalem. They again urged Israel to halt settlement building and end “discriminatory” treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
The EU statement welcomed Israel’s partial, temporary freeze on settlement construction as a first step in the right direction and hoped it would help restart talks stalled since 2008.
It also welcomed Israel’s steps to ease restrictions of movement for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank by removing roadblocks and military checkpoints on some highways.
Reporting by Julien Toyer and Luke Baker in Brussels, Joseph Nasr and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah; writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Angus MacSwan