Bulgaria sympathetic to Israel wanting Jerusalem recognition — to a point

On visit, PM Borisov insists he won’t relocate embassy, though he’s ‘not indifferent’ to a sovereign state wanting its choice for capital to be recognized by the world

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in Jerusalem, June 13, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in Jerusalem, June 13, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The prime minister of Bulgaria on Tuesday expressed understanding for Israel’s desire to have the international community recognize Jerusalem as their capital, saying that any sovereign country should have the right to determine its own capital city.

Calling the city the “historic center” of the Jewish people and Israel, Boyko Borisov nonetheless argued that Bulgaria will not relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem until an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal has been reached.

“We are convinced that the Jewish people’s relation to Jerusalem is indisputable and are not indifferent to the wish of the Jewish population of Israel and of the Jewry in the world and to the right of Israel, being a sovereign state, to decide which city will be its capital and to insist that it be internationally recognized,” Borisov said at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum, which took place this week for the first time in Jerusalem.

At the same time, he added, Sofia realizes that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been stalled for a long time, “and fails to find the driving force needed to lead the two peoples to an agreement on the final status.”

Such a process “should follow the path of peace and understanding,” he said, particularly because the word Jerusalem is based on the word “shalom,” or peace.

After US President Donald Trump announced that he planned to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there, Bulgaria declared the status of Jerusalem “as the sacred site of the three monotheistic religions should be agreed in the course of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that will lead to an agreement on the Palestinian territories’ final status,” Borisov noted.

On December 21, Bulgaria voted in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution that called Trump’s Jerusalem decision “null and void” and said it “must be rescinded.”

Hosting Borisov Tuesday in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised him for Bulgaria’s “consistent defense of Israel in international forums.”

So far, the US, Guatemala and Paraguay have moved their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem. Several other countries, including the Czech Republic and Romania, have expressed interested in a relocation, though no such move appears imminent.

During his speech Tuesday, Borisov mentioned that the AJC Global Forum usually takes place in the US and this year is being held in Jerusalem for the first time. The message of this move, he said, is that “Israel is an important and constructive component of the modern architecture of international relations.”

Echoing a talking point Netanyahu has made repeatedly in recent months, Borisov said that, “had it not been for Israel, Europe and the European civilization would have been in bigger jeopardy in the face of rising radicalism and religious fundamentalism in the Middle East.”

He also hailed Israel as a “unique state” that has deep historical roots but also a vision of and an action plan for the future.

“I myself highly appreciate the fact that Israel is the leader in innovation and technology and in finding solutions to a series of complicated problems that today’s civilization faces in digitalization, medicine, agriculture and high technologies,” he said.

Netanyahu on Tuesday thanked Borisov for the “wonderful friendship” between the two countries.

“It’s time that all of Europe’s leaders understood that Israel is the one that defends the interests, our common interests in the Middle East, both in terms of security and in many, many other ways,” he said.

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