Portuguese FM: We’ll move embassy when Jerusalem is capital of two states

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The country has no plans to follow the United States on this issue

Portugal’s Foreign Minister Santos Silva.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
 Portugal would relocate its embassy to Jerusalem only when the city is the capital of both the State of Israel and the state of Palestine, Portuguese Foreign Minister Santos Silva told The Jerusalem Post during his two-day visit.

His country has no plans to follow the United States on this issue, he said as he sat on the veranda of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, located in the western part of the city.

Portugal would contemplate such a move he said, only on “the day when I can put the two embassies in Jerusalem, the embassy of Portugal in Israel and the embassy of Portugal in Palestine.”

When asked if he considered that the location where he sat was part of Israel, he said, “I think it is a matter of fact.”

But when it came to the question of whether he considered Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, he said carefully, “You know the Portuguese Embassy is in Tel Aviv.”

Silva arrived in Israel late Sunday night, on the sidelines of a much more publicized visit by US White House senior adviser Jared Kushner on Monday, followed by a departure Tuesday of a joint Israeli-US delegation to Morocco to sign the initial documents with regard to the normalization of ties between Jerusalem and Rabat.

Silva braved the COVID-19 pandemic to travel visit Israel and the Palestinian territories just days before the Christmas holiday, as part of his preparatory work in advance of his country’s January ascendancy to the presidency of Council of the European Union. It’s a rotating half year position, which his country will take over from Germany.

Germany used that position to attempt to sooth over tensions between the EU and Israel on two major issues; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran. It invited Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi to a meeting of his EU counterparts and spoke of reconvening the EU-Israel Association Council, which last met in 2012.

Silva in Jerusalem spoke of the need for warm Israel-EU ties and of the importance of an EU-Israel Association Council meeting. He noted the points of disagreement with Israel but said that he wanted to address issues from a place of dialogue.

In a manner similar to the Germans, he said that Israel’s pledge to suspend the annexation of West Bank settlements in exchange for normalization deals with the Untied Arab Emirates and Bahrain had opened the door for improved Israel-EU relations as well.

“It was important that the normalization process meant suspension of the annexation plans,” Silva said when he spoke with the Post on Monday night.

“It allowed us to see future conversation and cooperation with Israel in a much more positive way,” Silva said.

He warned that should Israel backtrack on that pledge, the potential of improved Israel-EU ties would be harmed.

“It would be a huge problem for us. It would be an obstacle for deepening the cooperation between the two entities,” he said.

It was explained to him, Silva said, that “normalization was the opposite of annexation.”

Silva spoke positively of the US-brokered Abraham Accords under whose rubric Israeli-Arab deals have been reached. Silva said the Accords breathed life new life into the region and the frozen peace process with the Palestinians. The entry of US President-elect Joe Biden to the White House would also open new possibilities in that sphere, he said.

“We have to look carefully at the recent changes in the region, and then we have to create conditions for the relaunch of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.

“Palestinians and Israelis” need this, Silva said, adding that the EU wants to help facilitate this process.

It was a message that he carried with him when he went to Ramallah on Tuesday before flying back to Portugal in the late afternoon.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Muhammed Shtayyeh and PA Foreign Minister Riyad Malki both asked that Portugal unilaterally recognize Palestinian statehood. It’s a request that Portugal has rebuffed because it believes that such a step should only be taken by consensus with the entire European Union, and at present the bloc is divided on the issue.

The Portuguese parliament has called on its government to recognize Palestinian statehood; But to date the EU and the Portuguese government hold that Palestinian statehood recognition could only come upon completion of a final status agreement for a two-state resolution to the conflict.

But Portugal and the EU agree with the PA that the contours of a two-state solution should be based on the pre-1967 lines with east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

Both Portugal and the EU oppose Israeli settlement activity.

Silva spoke with Post about this disagreement, explaining that his country and the EU oppose all settlement activity and the Israeli practice of demolishing illegal Palestinian structures.

“We have to pursue our Israeli friends not to pursue the demolitions,” Silva said, adding that he was particularly concerned by Israel’s demolition of EU-funded structures for Palestinians. The EU’s decision to pursue such building without permits, which are difficult to obtain, has been a point of contention between the EU and Israel.

He noted that despite the disagreements with Israel, he held the relations between the two countries to be very important, both because of the historic ties, and because of the contemporary ties and similar characteristic.

“We are close countries,” he said.

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