Czech president vows to try to move embassy to Jerusalem, but admits hands tied

Czech president vows to try to move embassy to Jerusalem, but admits hands tied

In Knesset speech, Milos Zeman also blasts European ‘cowards,’ says EU Parliament hosting of Palestinian terrorist last year a ‘shame for all Europeans’

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

Czech President Milos Zeman speaks at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 26, 2018. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)
Czech President Milos Zeman speaks at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 26, 2018. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)

Czech President Milos Zeman on Monday vowed to do whatever he can to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, but acknowledged that he does not have the authority to do so.

During a brief speech to the Knesset — the first ever of a Czech leader to Israel’s parliament — Zeman expressed solidarity with Israel and chastised Europeans for being “cowards” who, because of their political correctness, fail to call out Islamic terrorism.

“Tomorrow I will open the Czech House. Where? In Jerusalem. And it connects CzechInvest, CzechTrade, CzechTourism, Czech Center and so on,” he said.

Prague has billed the Jerusalem office as the “first step” toward moving the embassy from Tel Aviv.

In April, Zeman announced the beginning of a three-stage process to move the country’s diplomatic missions from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The first step was the appointment of an honorary consul in Jerusalem.

The second step will be Tuesday’s opening of the so-called Czech House, an office space in the capital’s Cinematheque, where Czech diplomats will conduct meetings but which will have no official diplomatic status.

“Well, friends, I am no dictator, unfortunately,” Zeman told the Knesset plenum, speaking in English, without prepared remarks. “But — I promise I’ll do my best in order to realize the third step, after [the] honorary consulate and after [the] Czech House and you can guess what is to be the third step.”

As president, Zeman has limited executive power. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis has previously voiced opposition to a full-fledged relocation of the embassy in Israel, citing the policy of the European Union, which is staunchly opposed to the move.

In his eight-minute speech, Zeman took aim at Brussels for what he described as their apologetic approach to Palestinian terrorism.

“We Europeans… I speak about the EU, in fact, are sometimes hesitating,” he said. “We sometimes are cowards. It is very impolite, isn’t it? But I am afraid it is frank. And that’s why it is necessary all the time the solidarity with Israel. Because [if we] betray Israel, we betray ourselves.”

Without mentioning her name, Zeman recalled that the European Parliament last year hosted Leila Khaled, a convicted Palestinian terrorist.

“I think it is a shame for the European parliament, and it is shame for all Europeans,” he said.

At times it is important to “avoid political correctness,” the 74-year-old president added, noting that he deliberately uses the controversial term “Islamic terrorism.”

Zeman said the Czech Republic may be Israel’s best friend in the world, adding that he himself is “best friend of Israel in my own country.”

“My speech is a message toward solidarity with Israel and Jewish people,” he said.

Projev prezidenta republiky Miloše Zemana v izraelském parlamentu Kneset, OVTV, Jeruzalém, pondělí 26. listopadu 2018

Posted by Miloš Zeman – prezident České republiky on Monday, 26 November 2018

Addressing the plenary before Zeman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at considerable length about the storied history of Czech Jewry. He also recalled some historical highlights of the Czech-Israel friendship, noting that Czech leaders were supportive of Zionism before the state was founded and, after 1948, provided it with vital diplomatic and military support.

Netanyahu hailed Zeman as a “great leader who defends the truth,” comparing him to other important Czech statesmen such as Tomáš Masaryk.

He also thanked Zeman for his efforts to move the Czech Embassy to Jerusalem. “You were one of the first leaders in this generation to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left), Czech Republic President Milos Zeman (center), and Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein at a special session in the Knesset in honor of the visiting president, Jerusalem, November 26, 2018. (Flash90)

After Netanyahu, opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni addressed the Knesset, thanking Zeman for his staunch support of Israel, but also stressing that she opposes his ostensible sympathy for a one-state solution.

“We believe in a state that’s both Jewish and democratic, and therefore we want to separate from the Palestinians, preferably through a Palestinian state,” she said.

A one-state reality brought about by the absence of a Palestinian state would eventually lead to prolonged conflict and bloodshed, she argued.

Earlier on Monday, during a visit at the residence of President Reuven Rivlin, Zeman has expressed interest in the idea of “one state with two nations,” saying he does not really believe a two-state solution is feasible.

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