By Gwen Ackerman and Jonathan Ferziger
Buoyant over Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Europeans to emulate nations that don’t even recognize his country’s right to exist.
“I ask that your policies to Israel, especially if you are from Europe, that your actual policies be no more and no less than the policies of the Arab world,” Netanyahu said in a speech to international diplomats. “Did you hear what I just said? The actual policies of your countries will be the actual policies of the Arab world.”
Common threats — chiefly a shared antipathy toward Iran — have led to deepening ties between Israel and some Gulf states, though the relations have been kept under the surface while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still festers. While Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have been critical of Trump’s decision, the language wasn’t threatening, and protests in Muslim countries barely registered.
Netanyahu’s statement is “puzzling and it appears the prime minister knew it might be,” said Joshua Teitelbaum, senior research fellow at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. ”If I were to extrapolate, I would think that he means that in back-channel talks, Israel and the leadership of the Sunni Muslim countries see the Middle East in similar terms with respect to the threat of radical Islam and Iran, while European capitals are still prioritizing the Palestinian issue.”
Netanyahu also dispatched the only Arab member in his cabinet, Ayoob Kara, to deliver a similar message Thursday to the European Parliament, the lawmaker said. The prime minister will be visiting Paris and Brussels next week.
The U.S. president took a diplomatic gamble on Wednesday in breaking with nearly 70 years of U.S. policy to accept Israel’s designation of Jerusalem as its capital. He said his new policy shouldn’t derail the Middle East peace plan being formulated by his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
Trump has said a peace deal with the Palestinians would involve bringing Israel and Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia together. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in effect killed the peace process.