Czech president casts doubt on two-state solution as he kicks off Israel visit

Czech president casts doubt on two-state solution as he kicks off Israel visit

Zeman tells Rivlin he likes Israeli counterpart’s ‘provocative’ idea of ‘one state with two nations’; Czech ambassador confirms he will do some work out of new Jerusalem office

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

President Reuven Rivlin (right) meets with his Czech counterpart, Milos Zeman, in Jerusalem, November 26, 2018 (Czech presidency/Twitter)
President Reuven Rivlin (right) meets with his Czech counterpart, Milos Zeman, in Jerusalem, November 26, 2018 (Czech presidency/Twitter)

Czech President Milos Zeman on Monday expressed skepticism over the possibility of a two-state solution, saying he was interested in learning more about alternative approaches to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I was inspired by your idea about one state with two nations, and I know this idea is provocative — any big and great idea is provocative,” Zeman told President Reuven Rivlin during a meeting in Jerusalem.

“I wonder what will be your arguments for this idea, because for many, many decades, there is a discussion about two independent states. But frankly, I do not see [an] independent state in Gaza, because I understand Hamas as a terror organization and not as a state,” he went on.

During their subsequent private meeting, Rivlin picked up on Zeman’s comment about a one-state solution, but refrained from fully endorsing any model for solving the conflict with the Palestinians.

“When I am talking about Israel, I mean Israel is a Jewish and Democratic state. Israel cannot be a Jewish state without being a democratic one, and it cannot be a democratic one without being a Jewish state,” he said.

Rivlin stressed that Israelis and Palestinians need to “share the land,” saying that leaders had to find a way for everyone to live together. “We have to find a way to understand, all of us, that we are not doomed to live here — our destiny is to live here altogether, and we can have a wonderful future for all of us.

The Palestinians need to understand that Israel “is a Jewish homeland,” while Israelis need to come to terms with the fact that Arabs are living here as well, he went on.

Zeman, an outspoken supporter of Israel, arrived on Sunday evening for a three-day state visit, during which he will inaugurate the so-called “Czech House” in Jerusalem, an office space billed by Prague as a “first step” toward moving the country’s embassy to the city.

Welcoming Zeman to the president’s residence earlier on Monday, Rivlin hailed the strong bilateral relations between Israel and the Czech Republic.

“In the current situation, your friendship is more important than ever. ‏We welcome your support for the eventual move ‏of the embassy of the Czech Republic ‏to Jerusalem,” he said. “‏Jerusalem is the city of peace. ‏May peace begin in Jerusalem, and may it spread from Jerusalem to all the world.”

Later on Monday, Zeman will address the Knesset. His first word will be “Shalom,” he told Rivlin.

On Tuesday, he will officially open the Czech House at Jerusalem’s Cinematheque in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in the city.

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

Jiri Ovcacek, spokesman for Zeman, said that the Czech House would host government institutions including the foreign ministry’s Czech Center, the trade agency CzechTrade and tourism agency CzechTourism.

Czech President Miloš Zeman (L) meets with Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely at an event in honor of Israel’s 70th Independence Day at Prague Castle on April 25, 2018. (Courtesy)

Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček reiterated in Israel last week that the “Czech House” is in reality more of an office than a building, and will not have diplomatic status.

On Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said that the Czech ambassador “will work part of the time from Jerusalem,” just like US Ambassador David Friedman.

“We’ve been given assurances” to that effect, she told Army Radio. “It’s the first time the European flag will fly in Jerusalem.”

The Czech ambassador, Martin Stropnický, confirmed to The Times of Israel that he would be holding some meetings at the Czech House, but reiterated that it would not have diplomatic status.

“I’m in Jerusalem anyway twice a week,” he said, “so instead of meeting in a cafe I can invite officials to come there.”

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