Israel rejects European Union plan to divide Jerusalem

Israel's foreign ministry said a Sweden-led initiative to divide Jerusalem, with East Jerusalem as the eventual Palestinian capital, would marginalize the European Union's ability to foster peace.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    An Israeli flag is seen back-dropped by the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City on Tuesday.
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Israel's foreign ministry said Tuesday that a Swedish-led push for the European Union to call for the division of Jerusalem and the recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state would trip up Europe's own efforts to play a role in Middle East peacemaking.

"We would like to see the Europeans more involved and playing a role," but it will be more difficult for them to do so if they press ahead, says Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. "The Swedish initiative does not contribute to promoting the peace process, and all it can do is to marginalize the European role."

"It will only convince the Palestinians that they can remain the trenches," he adds.

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Israeli diplomats have been working overtime across Europe to stop the document from being adopted when European foreign ministers meet Dec. 7 to set a Middle East policy statement.

Greater European role

Several individual European countries have taken a more active role in the peace process in recent weeks. France's Nicolas Sarkozy has been facilitating Israeli-Syrian communication, and German mediators are playing a role in negotiations over a prisoner deal, in which Israel would win the release of its captive soldier, Sgt. Gilad Shalit, who has been held for more than three years by Hamas, in exchange for up to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

But European policy as a whole has been more of a concern, Israeli officials say. Sweden is at the forefront because it holds the rotating EU presidency through January. Relations between Jerusalem and Stockholm have been chilly since a Swedish tabloid ran a report in August suggesting that the IDF [the Israel Defense Forces] harvested organs from Palestinians held in Israeli custody. Israeli officials asked that the Swedish government officially publicly criticize the sensationalist report, but it declined to do so.

More recently, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt canceled a planned trip to Israel, Israel's foreign ministry announced over the weekend, apparently due to reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might refuse to meet with him.

Israel: Swedish draft one-sided

Quotes from the draft under Sweden's authorship have been sourced by the Israeli press, but no official copy is being provided because it is an internal document, an official at the Swedish embassy in Tel Aviv told the Monitor.

"We see no reason to comment on an internal draft document. And if there is a comment to be made, it will be made on behalf of the 27 member states and not just Sweden," says Annika Ben David, counsellor at the Swedish Embassy to Israel.

Israel's problem with the draft is that it is one-sided, a senior Israeli official says.

"If Europe is thinking of going public on what is final status, why only support one side of the issue?" The official continues, "If you say in your position paper that Israel will have to compromise on Jerusalem, why not come out publicly and say what the Palestinians will have to compromise on? Why not say that Palestinian refugees will have to go back to the state of Palestine, not Israel?"

EU official: Support for Palestinians

One European official in Tel Aviv, speaking on background, says that the EU position on Jerusalem does not represent a radical change, but is rather an attempt to show the Palestinians that they have international support for their claim to East Jerusalem as their future capital. In so doing, they hoped to draw Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table, despite the fact that the settlement freeze that Netanyahu announced last week did not include East Jerusalem – a prerequisite to peace talks that Mr. Abbas has insisted on.

"This might be a way to encourage the Palestinians to enter the negotiating process," said the European official. "But I don't think Europe is interested in the recognition of a Palestinian state now, ahead of negotiations. It's more saying, if and when it comes to it, we will recognized East Jerusalem as a capital of a Palestinian state."

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