Austrian Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner canceled an upcoming visit to Israel because Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis insisted on hosting him at the ministry’s office in East Jerusalem.
Mitterlehner, who also serves as Austria’s science minister, was set to sign two memoranda of understanding on scientific cooperation between Israel and Austria with Akunis during the four-day trip. He was set to arrive Sunday and meet with Akunis as well as Energy Minister Silvan Shalom, and visit the Weizmann Institute and Yad Vashem.
The cancelation of the meeting on such short notice was initially attributed to scheduling conflicts, but it later emerged that Austria objected to the meeting taking place over the pre-1967 Green Line.
The Likud minister’s office is situated in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, in a complex housing a number of government offices.
The Austrian Embassy in Israel told The Times of Israel on Friday that Austrian ministers “never go to meetings that are outside the 1967 borders.”
“We could not overcome the declaration of where the meeting was assigned, because meetings which are outside the ’67 lines we do not attend,” the embassy said.
Austria doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which Israel captured during the 1967 Six Day War and annexed in 1980.
Mitterlehner reportedly requested that the meeting with Akunis instead take place at the Knesset, the King David Hotel, or Tel Aviv, the Austrian Die Presse newspaper reported.
“With all due respect to the Austrian minister,” Akunis said in a statement on Thursday, “Jerusalem has been our capital for the past 3,000 years; holding a meeting there trumps any other option.”
“The government complex in East Jerusalem is part and parcel of Jerusalem; the Jerusalem Law says as much. Had I agreed to his request I might as well have agreed to the division of the city — which is never going to happen. We are not going to divide Jerusalem, just like the Austrians will never divide Vienna.”
The Austrian Embassy said that the visit has not been rescheduled.
“We’ll have to see how we’ll do that,” a spokesman explained, noting the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s holidays. “For now, nothing’s been scheduled as of yet.”
Mitterlehner’s cancelation occurred just days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu axed a meeting with Belgium’s foreign minister because of Brussels’ support for labeling Israeli products from over the Green Line.
Shortly afterwards, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders announced he would indefinitely postpone his upcoming visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories following Netanyahu’s announcement earlier this week to suspend the European Union’s role in the peace process over the labelling of settlement goods.
Reynders was slated to visit from December 5 to 8.
“Following the decision by the Prime Minister of Israel Mr. Netanyahu to suspend contacts with the European Union on the Middle East peace process, and considering the impact of this decision on the program of the visit of Didier Reynders, the latter confirmed this Tuesday morning to the Ambassador of Israel in Belgium his decision to postpone his visit to a later date,” the Belgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday night.