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Poland, Israel moving toward thaw in ties after four-month freeze

Jerusalem’s chargés d’affaires expected to return to Warsaw, though Israel holding back from full restoration of ambassadors following spat over Holocaust restitution legislation

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) speaks at a ceremony in Rabat, on August 11, 2021. Poland's President Andrzej Duda (right) arrives for a NATO summit in Brussels on June 14, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO; Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via AP)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) speaks at a ceremony in Rabat, on August 11, 2021. Poland's President Andrzej Duda (right) arrives for a NATO summit in Brussels on June 14, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO; Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via AP)

Israel’s chargés d’affaires to Poland is slated to soon return to Warsaw, signaling a thaw in the months-long freeze between the two nations.

The Foreign Ministry confirmed that Tal Ben-Ari, the current senior Israeli envoy to Poland, will soon return to her post after a four-month absence due to a spat between Jerusalem and Warsaw.

In July, Poland’s legislature passed a law effectively cutting off any future restitution to the heirs of property seized by the Nazis during the Holocaust. In response to the legislation, signed into law by Polish President Andrzej Duda, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called it “antisemitic and immoral.”

Poland “turned into an anti-democratic, illiberal country that doesn’t respect the greatest tragedy in human history,” Lapid charged. Poland responded by accusing Israel of “baseless and irresponsible” behavior, and both countries recalled their respective ambassadors.

According to the Maariv newspaper, Polish officials have indicated in recent weeks a desire to repair the damaged ties. The moves intended to send that message reportedly included the government’s harsh condemnation of an antisemitic rally in the Polish city of Kalisz earlier this month, as well as its condemnation of the deadly terrorist attack in Jerusalem this week. According to Ynet, Poland has also pointed to its decision to boycott the UN anti-racism conference in New York in September that Israel has accused of antisemitism, as well as its vote last month siding with Israel at the UN Human Rights Council.

Polish officials have reportedly indicated that they are interested in returning ambassadors from both nations to their respective posts, but Israel is still holding back from taking that step.

Israel’s charges d’affaires in Poland, Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon (Foreign Ministry)

Earlier this month, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel that any improvement in ties “is basically up to Poland,” adding: “The crisis is because of the [restitution] law. In order to fix the problem, they should address it.”

On Wednesday, the spokesman said that Poland had yet to address the legislation, and therefore Israel’s ambassador would not be returning to Warsaw in the immediate future.

Warsaw says the law will bolster legal certainty in the property market, but opponents say that it is unjust to those with legitimate claims, including Holocaust survivors and their families.

The legislation places a 10-to 30-year cutoff date on contesting past administrative decisions on restituting property lost during World War II. Critics of the law argue that it will effectively cut off the ability of Jews to reclaim property that was seized before and during the Holocaust.

Poland is the only country in the European Union that has not passed comprehensive national legislation to return, or provide compensation for, private property confiscated by the Nazis or nationalized by the communist regime.

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