Czech Republic says it will open diplomatic office in Jerusalem

Israel fetes country’s decision to become second EU member state to establish official mission in the city; Prague says its positions on peace process remain unchanged

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

File: Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek during a press conference in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP)
File: Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek during a press conference in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP)

The Czech Republic plans to establish a diplomatic office in Jerusalem, the Central European country’s foreign ministry announced Wednesday.

The Czech Republic would be the second European Union member state, after Hungary, to open a diplomatic mission in the city. So far, no European countries have embassies there.

In a statement, the foreign ministry in Prague said it will permanently station a diplomat from the Tel Aviv embassy at its “honorary consulate” in Jerusalem — which likely refers to the “Czech House” culture and trade center that opened in the city two years ago.

“This is not about setting up a new embassy,” the statement clarified. Rather, the move is intended to support the work of the country’s embassy in Tel Aviv, to “further strengthen Czech-Israeli relations” and to make Czech officials more accessible to citizens living in Jerusalem.

“The establishment of this office has nothing to do with the ongoing Middle East peace process and does not indicate a change in the Czech Republic’s long-held position on this matter,” the statement concluded.

Nonetheless, Israeli officials celebrated Wednesday’s announcement.

“This is an important step that is indicative of the friendship between the two peoples and the recognition of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his wife Sara and President of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman attend the opening ceremony of the Czech House in Jerusalem, November 27, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“It is my sincere hope that the Czech diplomatic office will be inaugurated in Jerusalem in the near future and we will see the countries’ flags hoisted over the diplomatic missions in the capitals of both countries, as a symbol of the brave friendship and strategic partnership between the countries.”

Ashkenazi made the comments after speaking on the phone with his Czech counterpart, Tomas Petricek, in which he thanked him for the planned step. In a series of tweets about their conversation, the Czech top diplomat once again stressed that the new diplomatic office will not be an embassy.

Ashkenazi also praised Israel’s ambassador in Prague, Daniel Meron, for his “important diplomatic achievement.”

Meron, who is concluding his term this summer, has invested much effort in trying to convince the Czech government to move its embassy to Jerusalem.

“As an Israeli and a Jerusalemite I am proud to serve as the ambassador of Israel to the Czech Republic, a country that speaks the truth against the singling out of Israel in international forums,” he told The Times of Israel.

Earlier on Wednesday, Czech Ambassador to Israel Martin Stropnický handed a missive with an official announcement of the opening of a diplomatic office in Jerusalem to Alon Bar, a senior Israeli diplomat. Stropnický said the move was the fulfillment of a promise made by Czech President Milos Zeman in 2018, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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

In April of that year, Zeman, who is known as a staunch supporter of Israel, announced the beginning of a three-stage process to move the country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The first step was the appointment of an honorary consul in Jerusalem.

The second step was the November 2018 opening of the so-called Czech House, an office space in the capital’s Cinematheque that houses companies such as CzechInvest, CzechTrade and CzechTourism. Czech diplomats conduct meetings there but the center currently does not have official diplomatic status.

Attending the center’s opening ceremony, Zeman said he believed a Czech embassy would open in Jerusalem in the “near future.”

During an address to the Knesset at the time, Zeman said he’d do his best “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.”

But as president, Zeman has limited executive power, and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis has so far opposed transferring his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, citing EU policy, which is staunchly opposed to opening diplomatic missions in the city.

In March 2019, Hungary became the first EU member state to open a trade mission in Jerusalem, stressing that it had official diplomatic status. “This is a very exciting moment for us because it’s the first European diplomatic mission opened in Jerusalem in many decades,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time.

In recent weeks, several countries in different parts of the globe — Malawi, the Dominican Republic, Serbia and Kosovo — have stated their intention to open embassies in Jerusalem. So far only two embassies are operating in the city: those of the US and Guatemala.

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