Israel Warns Europe Not to Recognize East Jerusalem As Palestinian Capital

By Josef Federman | December 1, 2009 | 10:04 AM EST
Jerusalem (AP) - Israel sternly warned the European Union on Tuesday against recognizing east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, saying such a move would damage Europe's credibility as a Mideast mediator.
The warning came as Jewish settlers in the West Bank confronted government inspectors sent to enforce a ban on new construction on territory Palestinians claim for a future state.
No major violence was reported, but the images could boost the efforts of conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to portray himself as amenable to international demands for curtailing settlements.
Sweden, the current EU president, is floating an initiative to recognize east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported Tuesday that Sweden will seek approval at an EU meeting in Brussels next week.
In Stockholm, officials declined to confirm the proposal. But diplomats in Brussels said privately that Sweden has put the issue up for a debate by the EU governments. Although the proposal is unlikely to pass, Israel's Foreign Ministry issued a strongly worded statement urging the EU not to proceed.
"The move led by Sweden damages the ability of the European Union to take a role and be a significant factor in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," the statement said.
The dispute over east Jerusalem -- home to Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites -- is the most intractable issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel captured the area in the 1967 Mideast war, immediately annexed it and claims all of Jerusalem as its eternal capital. But the annexation has not been internationally recognized, and the Palestinians want to make east Jerusalem the capital of a future state.
An explicit European endorsement of their claims to east Jerusalem would be a major diplomatic victory for the Palestinians. It also would mark a significant break with tradition. The Europeans have long said Jerusalem should be a shared capital, but that Israel and the Palestinians must jointly agree on that.
A Dutch diplomat called an EU decision on east Jerusalem "hard to imagine." Major decisions require unanimous approval, and there are divisions among the 27 members over the Jerusalem issue. Other diplomats said the wording of any final proposal would likely change.
Palestinian presidential adviser Rafik Husseini accused Israel of trying to sabotage the Palestinian diplomatic efforts. "They are trying to make sure it never happens," he said.
The Palestinians have refused to restart peace talks, which broke down nearly a year ago, until Israel halts construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians have called Netanyahu's offer of a 10-month halt to new West Bank construction insufficient because it excludes east Jerusalem, as well as 3,000 homes already being built in the West Bank.
Even so, Netanyahu, a traditional ally of the settlers, claims he has made a painful and unprecedented gesture to get peace efforts back on track -- and Tuesday's unrest could help back his position by allowing him to claim he is moving against wayward settlers.
Some 300,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, in addition to 180,000 Israeli Jews living in east Jerusalem.
Settlers have promised stiff resistance to the building freeze, and on Tuesday, Israeli radio stations reported unrest in at least four settlements where inspectors tried to enforce the government order. There were no reports of injuries, but the reports said inspectors were blocked from entering the settlements.
In other unrest, a Jewish family took over a house in an Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem, sparking a protest by rock-throwing Palestinians and a few Israeli and foreign activists who joined them, police said. One of the family members was lightly injured in the head when a protester hit him with a metal bar, and police arrested five people. Both sides claim ownership of the building.
At the scene, Richard Miron, spokesman for U.N. Mideast envoy Robert Serry, urged Israel to halt settlement activity in east Jerusalem.
"Provocative actions such as these create inevitable tensions, undermine trust, often have tragic human consequences and make resuming negotiations and achieving a two-state solution more difficult," he said.
AP correspondents Ian Deitch in Jerusalem, Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm and Robert Wielaard in Brussels contributed to this report.
Such a move would damage Europe's credibility as a Mideast mediator, Israel warns.