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PA, Arab League condemn opening of Czech diplomatic office in Jerusalem

Ramallah says move is ‘violation of international law’; Arab League’s Ahmed Aboul Gheit claims mission will affect Jerusalem’s legal status

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, right, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, center left, and Israeli Public Security Minister Amir Ohana unveil a sign during a ceremony at the new Embassy of the Czech Republic Jerusalem office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Pool)
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, right, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, center left, and Israeli Public Security Minister Amir Ohana unveil a sign during a ceremony at the new Embassy of the Czech Republic Jerusalem office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Pool)

The Palestinian Authority and the Arab League on Saturday condemned the opening of the Czech Republic’s diplomatic office in Jerusalem, calling the move “a flagrant violation of international law,” according to Reuters.

Prague opened the Jerusalem office of its embassy Thursday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

In response, the Palestinian Authority foreign ministry said it considered the move “a blatant attack on the Palestinian people and their rights, a flagrant violation of international law,” adding that it would harm peace prospects, the report said.

At the same time in Cairo, the Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that “the legal status of Jerusalem will be affected by the decision of one country or another to open representative offices.”

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit speaks during an Arab League emergency meeting discussing the US-brokered proposal for a settlement of the Middle East conflict, at the league headquarters in the Egyptian capital Cairo on February 1, 2020. (Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

“East Jerusalem is an occupied land under international law,” Gheit added, despite the diplomatic mission being located in the western side of the city.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the Six Day War of 1967 and later extended sovereignty over it in a move never recognized by most of the international community. It considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

“We keep our promise,” said Babis, standing in the shadow of the historic YMCA building in the Talbieh neighborhood of Jerusalem. “The Czech Republic will have a full-fledged diplomatic mission here in Jerusalem. It will deal with a lot — ranging from politics, economic cooperation, consular agenda and other topics. It will have a permanent staff and work under the lead of our embassy in Tel Aviv.”

The Czech foreign ministry announced its plans to open the mission in December. The Czech Republic is the second European Union member state, after Hungary, to open a diplomatic mission in the city.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, right, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, center, and Israeli Public Security Minister Amir Ohana cut a ribbon during a ceremony at the new Embassy of the Czech Republic Jerusalem office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Pool)

In May 2018, President Milos Zeman 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.

As president, Zeman has limited executive power, and 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 recent months, a number of countries — 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.

“The Czech Republic is one of Israel’s closest allies,” said Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, “frequently demonstrating strong support for Israel at the United Nations, and within the European Union.”

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