Israeli official takes Czech FM to Western Wall, drawing Palestinian ire

Contradicting EU policy, Tomáš Petříček visits Jerusalem holy site, accompanied by Israel’s ambassador in Prague

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

Israel's Ambassador in Prague Daniel Meron, left, accompanies Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, November 13, 2018 (Twitter)
Israel's Ambassador in Prague Daniel Meron, left, accompanies Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, November 13, 2018 (Twitter)

The foreign minister of the Czech Republic visited the Western Wall on Tuesday accompanied by an Israel diplomat, drawing sharp criticism from a senior Palestinian official.

Shortly after landing in Israel, Tomáš Petříček visited the holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City, together with Israel’s ambassador in Prague, Daniel Meron.

Meron posted several photos of him and Petříček at the wall to his Twitter account.

According to Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Tuesday’s visit marked the first time a European foreign minister is joined at the wall by an Israeli diplomat.

Third parties “have the obligation of non-recognition of unlawful situations, including Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem,” Erekat tweeted. By visiting the Old City accompanied by an Israeli official, Petříček “has violated this principle,” he wrote, adding that Ramallah expects the Czech position to be in line with those of the European Union.

The EU, like much of the international community, does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, and so officials of member states usually refrain from going there in the company of Israeli officials. European dignitaries who want to visit the site usually do so in a private capacity.

In Israel, Petříček will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, open the 6th Czech-Israeli Forum and visit the “Czech House” in Jerusalem, which will be formally opened later this month by President Miloš Zeman.

Located in the capital’s Cinematheque, the “Czech House” is billed by Prague as the “first step” toward relocate the country’s embassy to Jerusalem.

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

At the time, the Foreign Ministry in Prague clarified that opening a new Czech Center in Jerusalem “in no way prejudges the final agreement” concerning the city. “The Czech Republic fully respects common policy of the European Union, which considers Jerusalem as the future capital of both the State of Israel and the future State of Palestine,” the ministry said in a statement.

Petříček is also set to visit the Palestinian Authority, where is schedule to meet Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki.

Earlier on Tuesday, he weighed on on the violence in Gaza, “strongly” condemning Hamas and Islamic Jihad firing rockets at Israeli civilians.

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