After first Western Wall visit, Czech FM signals Prague won’t move embassy

Tomáš Petříček tells Palestinians that Prague’s policy on Jerusalem aligns with EU’s; says new cultural center in the city has no diplomatic status

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Israel's Ambassador in Prague Daniel Meron, left, accompanies Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, November 13, 2018 (Twitter)
Israel's Ambassador in Prague Daniel Meron, left, accompanies Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, November 13, 2018 (Twitter)

The Czech Republic’s embassy will likely not be relocated from Tel Aviv to Israel, the country’s foreign minister indicated on Wednesday.

Visiting Ramallah, Tomáš Petříček said Prague’s position on the status of Jerusalem “is in line with international law and the European Union’s position,” according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.

The EU vehemently opposes unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and condemned the May 14 opening of the US embassy in the city.

During a meeting Wednesday with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, Petříček stressed that the “Czech House” that will formally open in Jerusalem later this month “does not have any diplomatic status and is only a cultural center.”

Located in the capital’s Cinematheque movie theater, the “Czech House” was billed by Prague as the “first step” toward relocating the country’s embassy to Jerusalem.

In April, Czech President Miloš Zeman announced the beginning of a process that will move the country’s diplomatic missions from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, though it remained unclear if and when Prague would actually open an embassy in the holy city.

At the time, the Foreign Ministry in Prague clarified that opening a new Czech Center in Jerusalem “in no way prejudges the final agreement” concerning the city. “The Czech Republic fully respects common policy of the European Union, which considers Jerusalem as the future capital of both the State of Israel and the future State of Palestine,” the ministry said in a statement.

On Tuesday evening, Petříček took an unprecedented step that appeared to express support for Israel’s claim on Jerusalem’s Old City when he visited the Western Wall together with Israel’s ambassador in Prague, Daniel Meron.

The significance of his step was not lost on Israeli and Palestinian officials.

“The Czech Foreign Minister made history as he became the first European minister to come to the wall accompanied by an Israeli ambassador,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely wrote on Twitter.

Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, lamented Petříček’s move.

Third parties “have the obligation of non-recognition of unlawful situations, including Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem,” Erekat tweeted. By visiting the Old City accompanied by an Israeli official, Petříček “has violated this principle,” he wrote, adding that Ramallah expects the Czech position to be in line with those of the European Union.

The EU, like much of the international community, does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, and so officials of member states usually refrain from going there in the company of Israeli officials. European dignitaries who want to visit the site usually do so in a private capacity.

Meeting al-Malki in Ramallah, the Czech foreign minister discussed “bilateral and economic cooperation, development assistance [and] conditions for [a] restart of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations,” according to his aides.

“In the last few years, the Czech Republic has been active in the Palestinian energy sector. We intend to continue working in this field and to see more of Palestinian schools and hospitals with solar energy,” Petříček tweeted. He also announced that his government will donate 220,000 euros to UNRWA, the UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees.

In Israel, Petříček was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the meeting was canceled on short notice due to the surprise resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. Petříček met with Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi instead.

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