Macron asks Netanyahu to stall West Bank colonisation

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Jewish capital casts chill over Franco-Israeli links

French president Emmanuel Macron called on the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to freeze the colonisation of the West Bank as a gesture for peace when they lunched together at the Élysée Palace on Sunday.

The tone of the meeting was markedly more chilled than during a previous visit by Mr Netanyahu last July. After condemning "all forms of attacks against Israel", Mr Macron reiterated criticism of the announcement by US president Donald Trump on December 6th that he is formally recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

"France judges the recent statements by the US president as contrary to international law and dangerous for peace," Mr Macron said. An earlier statement by the Élysée said the president repeated in a phone call with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that "Jerusalem has a vocation to become the capital of two states, Israel and Palestine. "

During Mr Netanyahu’s long peroration on Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Mr Macron pointedly looked at the ceiling with his jaw set.

The Bible

“We respect your history and your choices, and we know that France respects ours,” Mr Netanyahu said. “There is an effort continuing in UN forums and elsewhere to deny the millennial connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. It’s absurd. You can read about it in a very fine book. It’s called the Bible . . . Jerusalem has never been the capital of any other people. The sooner the Palestinians come to grips with this reality, the sooner we will move towards peace. This is why President Trump’s announcement was so historic and so important for peace.”

Mr Macron asked for Israeli “confidence measures” towards the Palestinians, in addition to a settlement freeze. An adviser said those might include greater freedom of movement for Palestinians, better treatment of prisoners or allowing Palestinians to complete agricultural projects.  He said the tone was “very frank” during the half-hour the two men spent alone.

With the US discredited as an “honest broker” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there had been speculation that Mr Macron might step in with his own peace initiative.

French diplomacy

But Mr Macron said French diplomacy will concentrate in coming months on preserving the stability of Lebanon, on completing the military defeat of Islamic State and on pacifying Syria.

Despite his criticism of Mr Trump, Mr Macron said he would wait for the US “peace initiative” to play out. “There remains a US will to mediate,” he said. “I won’t condemn it in advance. We will have to see what is proposed in coming weeks and months . . . It is not up to me to arbitrate. The situation is complicated enough without external arbitration. If you have multiple initiatives, they cannibalise each other.”

Mr Netanyahu lashed out at Mr Erdogan, who has been extremely critical of Israel and the US. "I'm not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader that bombs Kurdish villages in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran get around international sanctions and who helps terrorists including in Gaza kill innocent people," he said.