‘In Terra Sancta Concordia’: EU’s position on Jerusalem capital status

 

Túlio Dias de Assis

Research assistant in the Center for Global Affairs & Strategic Studies / University of Navarre

 

Last December, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, surprised the world once again with a new declaration, which similar to previous ones was quite controversial. This time the subject in question was the recognising of the millenary city of Jerusalem as the capital of the only modern Jewish state, i.e. Israel.

 

Such an infamous announcement, in such a delicate matter, was widely criticized by most of the International Community. Nevertheless, there has been a small group of states supporting Trump’s decision, and a few more have made ambiguous declarations. Among these, various sources claim some of these to be EU member-states. However, has there really been such a lack of internal coherence amongst its members?

 

Before continuing further, we ought to analyse in detail this situation and the correct way to approach it is with this question: “Why is so important about this city?” There are many factors to be analysed in order to completely understand the reasons behind its importance, amongst which the following would be some of the most relevant: historical relevance, religious importance and geopolitical value.

 

Historical Relevance – First, it is one of oldest human settlements in the world, tracing its earliest origins back to the 4th millennium BC. Besides that, it is the historical capital of the region of Canaan/Palestine. Additionally, it is one of the many Jewish kingdoms established there during the 1st millennium BCE.

 

Religious Importance – Furthermore, it is one of the holiest cities of the three major Abrahamic religions, each one for its own reasons.  For Christians, it is significant given Christ was crucified there. For Muslims, it is the homeland of many prophets – most of them shared in the other Abrahamic religions’ beliefs – and a holy site of pilgrimage, it is also the city to which Muhammad made his night journey. And lastly, the Jews consider it the holiest city considering the sacred Temple of Solomon was built there, apart from historical reasons.

 

Geopolitical Value – Last but not least, its relevance additionally derives from its geostrategic position: its link between the Levantine Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan Valley. Thus, the owner of such a geostrategic position has many geopolitical advantages in the Levant region.

 

Considering the previously discussed, it is no wonder that the sovereignty over this city is of utmost importance and a source for disagreement in the peace negotiations. With that in mind, Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem was not of big help towards peace, on the contrary, it could be argued that it has done quite the opposite: For it has not only provoked reactions from the local Palestinians, but from the entire Arab World instead, thus managing to further destabilize the region. There were contrary reactions from Hamas, Hezbollah and several Muslim governments (including Erdogan’s laic country). Hamas called for an “Intifada” – or uprising – against the Israelite authorities. These demonstrations and protests ended up leaving hundreds wounded and even a few dozen dead.

 

“There was something that stood out in the European response, and that was their internal coherence and uniformity”.

 

Europe, on the other hand, tries to maintain a more balanced and neutral position, oriented towards the final objective of achieving regional peace. Thus, the EU’s mediation attempts in order to resolve the scenario is based mainly upon previous UN resolutions. These propositions, considered too Utopian and rather unrealistic by many Israelites, are grounded upon four basic points: the Two States, the refugees, security, and the status of Jerusalem.

 

The two-state solution: According to the EU, any solution attempting to maintain only one state would be contrary to both parts’ interests, for it would impose one country’s sovereignty over the other’s. Therefore, Brussels considers that the two-state solution would be the most appropriate: each people shall have its own state and the borders thereof shall be based upon the ones in place on June 4th, 1967; before the Six Days War. Nevertheless, any other changes to these boundaries would be accepted, as long as both parts were willing and agreed on it.

 

The refugee question: The EU believes that several long-lasting measures should be taken into account on the issue of Palestinian refugees in exile outside their home country (especially in neighbour countries such as Jordan and Lebanon) in order for them to return to their motherland.

 

Security: Another of the fundamental points for the EU would be the security problem. On one hand, measures should be taken to end the Israelite occupation of Palestinian land. On the other, something should be done in order to dissolve the local Palestinian terrorist bands.

 

Sovereignty over Jerusalem: Taking into account all the factors previously mentioned about the city’s importance, Brussels considers that the best solution would be a resolution where the city’s sovereignty would be divided between both parts. Furthermore, the holy city should also be the capital of both states simultaneously.

 

However, as it was previously mentioned, there were some speculations on the position of certain EU member-states on this issue; some even suspected a possible support to the American decision. Some states like the Czech Republic and Hungary were victims of such accusations, mainly because some of their declarations were misexplained or taken out of context, which made it seem as if tensions between Brussels and Visegrad were increasing. Despite the confusion, there was something that stood out in the European response, and that was their internal coherence and uniformity.

 

First, the Czech government did nothing more than recognising West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the same way it shall do to Palestine and East Jerusalem when it recovers its due sovereignty. The Magyar government did not contradict the European position either, for their declarations only claimed that Europe did not have to position itself on American affairs. Later the Hungarian prime-minister did affirm that the EU should remain united on its external policy and such position was in fact Hungary’s. Furthermore, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, during his meeting with the Israelite prime-minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had already mentioned that France would never support Trump’s latest decisions on the issue and thus did also speak Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of Foreign Affairs in the EU, who once again stated that Europe shall maintain its role as a mediator.

 

Therefore, neither the EU nor any of its member-states have shown any signs of support towards Trump’s unilateral decision. Thus, Europeans are still united in their diversity, quoniam “In varietate concordia”.

 

This article has been published in Center for Global Affairs and Strategic Studies

 

 

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