Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has warned US recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital was a “threat to peace” as he hosted the country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on his first foreign trip since Donald Trump provoked widespread condemnation with the decision.
The joint appearance by the two men, following talks in Paris, came after tear gas was used to disperse protesters outside the US embassy in Beirut and a Palestinian man stabbed an Israeli security guard at Jerusalem’s central bus station in the first attack in the city since Trump’s announcement.
Palestinian media identified the assailant as 24-year-old Yasin Abu al-Qur’a from a village near Nablus in the northern West Bank, who reportedly posted on Facebook hours earlier mentioning Jerusalem. Police described as a terrorist attack.
Trump last week declared the US would recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, breaking the international consensus on one of the most sensitive issues in relations between Israel and the Palestinians – who wish the capital of a future Palestinian state to be in the east of the city.
Macron said he had told Netanyahu that Trump’s statement on Jerusalem “is a threat to peace and we are against it” and suggested that an Israeli freeze on settlement building would be an important gesture, showing Israel was committed to peace.
In uncompromising remarks unlikely to calm the ongoing crisis, Netanyahu replied by saying that the sooner Palestinians recognised the reality that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital, the sooner there would be peace.
He also lashed out at the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, saying he would not “take lectures” from someone who bombs Kurdish villages, supports Iran and “terrorists” in Gaza.
Several rockets were fird from the Gaza Strip toward Israel on Thursday and Friday following Trump’s declaration, leading Israel to respond with airstrikes that killed two people.
Macron has been leading European criticism of the US decision and rang Trump before his announcement to warn him of the likely damaging consequences for the Palestinian peace process. Before Netanyahu’s visit, he and Erdoğan spoke by telephone about a joint diplomatic approach to try to persuade the US to row back on Jerusalem.
He began his pre-prepared remarks alongside Netanyahu with a clear condemnation “of all forms of attacks in the last hours and days against Israel.”
Graphic footage of the incident in Jerusalem showed the attacker calmly handing his coat to the security guard before abruptly plunging a large knife into the guard’s chest. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the guard sustained a serious wound to his upper body and the attacker was apprehended.
In Beirut, meanwhile, Lebanese security forces broke up a protest outside the heavily guarded US embassy with teargas after demonstrators pelted them with stones.
Protesters, some of them waving Palestinian flags, lit fires in the street and threw objects at members of the security forces who had barricaded the main road to the embassy.
Addressing the protesters, the head of the Lebanese Communist party, Hanna Gharib, declared Washington “the enemy of Palestine” and said the embassy was “a symbol of imperialist aggression” that must be closed.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, defended Trump’s decision saying it reflected his appreciation for such facts on the ground and – without giving details – that it would advance peace talks.
“You’ve got the parliament, the president, the prime minister, the supreme court, so why shouldn’t we have the embassy there?” she told CBS.
“When you recognise the truth, when both parties recognise reality, peace comes. We are living in the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”
She said US allies in the Middle East were more concerned about Iran’s growing influence in the region, where Washington was “in lockstep” with them.
The US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital has nevertheless infuriated the Arab world and upset western allies, who say it is a blow to peace efforts and risks causing further unrest.
The Vatican on Sunday said Pope Francis was praying so that “leaders of nations” commit themselves to work to “avert a new spiral of violence” over Jerusalem. Its statement reiterated the Vatican position on “the essential need for respecting the status quo”.
Most countries consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in 1967, to be occupied territory. They say the status of the city should be left to be decided at future Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Netanyahu is on Monday due in Brussels where he will meet the EU foreign policy chief, Frederica Mogherini, and hold a working breakfast with 27 EU foreign ministers. Before he left Israel for Europe he was critical of EU leaders, who have also condemned the building of Israeli settlements in West Bank.
“While I respect Europe, I am not prepared to accept a double standard from it,” Netanyahu said on Saturday evening. “I hear voices from there condemning President Trump’s historic statement, but I have not heard condemnations of the rockets fired at Israel or the terrible incitement against it. I am not prepared to accept this hypocrisy.”
Arab League foreign ministers met for hours on Saturday to denounce the US decision as illegitimate and unlawful, but appeared to have held back from taking any new measures.
The Arab League chief, Ahmed Abul Gheit, said Trump’s decision was “against international law and raises questions over American efforts to support peace” between Palestine and Israel.
The shift in US policy undermined Arab confidence in the Trump administration and amounted to the legalisation of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, he added.
The ministers reiterated that such a move had no legal impact and was void, adding: “it deepens tension, ignites anger and threatens to plunge region into more violence and chaos.”
The ministers agreed to “demand that the United States rescind its decision on Jerusalem … and the calling on the international community to recognise the state of Palestine … with east Jerusalem as its capital,” said the statement.