Czech leaders endorse Israeli embassy move to Jerusalem

President, prime minister and parliament speaker back efforts to slowly move diplomatic missions to capital city

Czech President Milos Zeman speaking at a reception in honor of Israel's 70th birthday at Prague Castle, April 25, 2018 (Facebook)

Czech leaders on Wednesday endorsed moving the country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, following a similar move by the US administration earlier this year.

In a joint statement, the Czech president, prime minister, parliament speaker and the foreign and defense ministers said the opening of a “Czech House” there in November would be “the first step in the plan to move the Czech embassy to Jerusalem.”

Jiri Ovcacek, spokesman for President Milos Zeman, told AFP that the Czech House would shelter government institutions including the foreign ministry’s Czech Center, the trade agency CzechTrade and tourism agency CzechTourism.

“The Czech House in Jerusalem will be ceremonially opened by Mr. President during his visit to Israel in November,” he said.

Zeman, a 73-year-old veteran left-winger known for his staunch pro-Israel stance, promoted the embassy move even before US President Donald Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem on May 14.

The European Union, of which the Czech Republic is a member, opposed the US embassy move, which Brussels says should occur only after the final status of Jerusalem is determined under a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

In this April 12, 2018 photo Czech Republic’s acting Prime Minister Andrej Babis speaks during a news conference at the government’s headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Some Israeli politicians have hailed Zeman’s calls to move the embassy, despite the fact that as president, he has limited executive power. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who controls the foreign ministry, has previously voiced opposition to a full-fledged relocation of the embassy in Israel, citing EU policy.

In May, the Czech Republic reopened its honorary consulate in Jerusalem following its closure in 2016 due to the death of the honorary consul. The foreign ministry said at the time that the reopening had “no influence on the final agreement on Jerusalem,” adding that Prague “fully respects” the EU position backing a two-state solution for the conflict.

Zeman later said the reopening of the honorary consulate was part of an open-ended effort to move the Czech diplomatic missions to Jerusalem that would culminate with the relocation of its embassy.

Trump broke with decades of policy in moving the US embassy to Jerusalem earlier this year, infuriating Palestinians who see the eastern section of the city as the capital of a future state. The move ruptured generations of international consensus that Jerusalem’s status should be settled as part of a two-state deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Fuming at the move, the PA recalled its envoys to Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria, whose ambassadors attended an Israeli reception marking the embassy move.

The Czech embassy has been in Tel Aviv since 1949, except during the interruption of diplomatic relations under the former communist regime in Prague between 1967 and 1990.

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