Austrian far-right leader sympathetic to Israel on Jerusalem recognition
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Austrian far-right leader sympathetic to Israel on Jerusalem recognition

But Hans-Christian Strache indicates he wouldn't break with European consensus on moving embassy

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

Chairman of Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache attends a television debate about the Austrian general elections in Vienna on October 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Vladimir Simicek)
Chairman of Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache attends a television debate about the Austrian general elections in Vienna on October 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Vladimir Simicek)

BRUSSELS — The leader of Austria’s far-right party on Monday expressed sympathy for Israel’s desire to have all embassies in Jerusalem. Yet at the same time, Hans-Christian Strache, the head of the controversial Freedom Party, said that his country is bound to European consensus and cannot act alone in such matters.

“I can appreciate Israel’s wish because as many [Israeli] politicians say, ‘Our capital is Jerusalem, that’s where the Knesset is located,’” Strache told the Kurier newspaper. “It would be our wish, too, to have the embassies located there, as is common practice worldwide. But we Austrians, as a neutral country, have to make sure not to act unilaterally, but to find a balance in the EU.”

The EU vehemently rejected US President Donald Trump’s recognition last week of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his vow to move the American embassy to the city.

Strache, who is likely to become interior minister in a future Austrian coalition government headed by center-right leader Sebastian Kurz, acknowledged the EU’s opposition to Trump’s move.

“But it’s possible to have a different position,” he continued. “The [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict has been going on for decades, the peace talks have not been successful so far. That has to change.”

After visiting Israel in June, Strache, in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, vowed to do everything in his power, “be it legislative or eventually executive, to move the Austrian Embassy from its actual place in Ramat Gan to Jerusalem.”

It was “totally absurd not to locate our Austrian Embassy in Jerusalem, as we do in other capitals of other countries all over the world,” he said.

The letter Austrian far-right leader Hans-Christian Strache sent to PM Netanyahu

In Brussels on Monday, Netanyahu sought to convince the EU that it was in the interest of peace to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, urging the 28-member state bloc to move their embassies to the city.

“I believe that all, or most, of European countries will move their embassies to Jerusalem and recognize it as Israel’s capital and engage robustly with us, for security, prosperity and peace,” he said at a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

But Mogherini, in her statement, made plain that the EU will not recognize any change to the city’s status before a final peace deal is signed.

“We believe that the only realistic solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine is based on two States with Jerusalem as the capital of both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine along the 1967 line,” she said.

“This is our consolidated position and we will continue to respect the international consensus on Jerusalem until the final status of the Holy City is resolved through direct negotiations between the parties.”

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