Romanian PM visits Israel as embassy row brews
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Romanian PM visits Israel as embassy row brews

Viorica Dancila meeting Netanyahu, Rivlin during 2-day tour, which comes after President Iohannis slammed plan to move diplomatic mission to Jerusalem

Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, left, arrives, followed by the leader of the ruling Social Democratic party Liviu Dragnea for the swearing in ceremony of her cabinet, in Bucharest, Romania, Monday, January 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, left, arrives, followed by the leader of the ruling Social Democratic party Liviu Dragnea for the swearing in ceremony of her cabinet, in Bucharest, Romania, Monday, January 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila started a two-day visit to Israel Wednesday, as a political row brews at home over the possible transfer of Romania’s embassy to Jerusalem.

Dancila, from the left-wing Social Democrats (PSD), was to have lunch with her Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu before visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, according to Israeli officials.

On Thursday she is due to visit the Western Wall and meet President Reuven Rivlin.

The visit comes days after PSD party chief Liviu Dragnea kicked off a political row in Romania by announcing the government’s “decision” to move the country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The move would follow in the footsteps of US President Donald Trump, who took the controversial decision in December of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

According to Romanian media, Netanyahu has invited Dragnea to visit Israel “toward the end of the month” and welcomed his stance on the embassy question.

Benjamin Netanyahu (R) holds a joint press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in Jerusalem on March 7, 2016. Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

However, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who is from the center-right and has frequently clashed with the government, protested that he had not been informed and emphasized that any such move could only happen after Israel and the Palestinians had agreed on the status of Jerusalem among themselves.

Caught in the middle of the argument between the two men, Dancila has sought to explain that her government was trying simply to create a “platform for discussions” on the possible transfer of the embassy.

Dragnea was not able to take up the post of prime minister after his party won polls in 2016 due to a conviction for electoral fraud. But he is still seen as having a key role in government affairs.

Dragnea “is looking for recognition on an international level and to present himself as a privileged interlocutor with Israel and the US within Romania,” political analyst Radu Magdin told AFP.

Dragnea also hopes that “the US will be less critical of the government’s reforms” of the judiciary, according to Magdin.

Liviu Dragnea, the leader of The Social Democratic Party (PSD), gives a press conference at the party’s headquarters in Bucharest, December 11, 2016. (AFP/DANIEL MIHAILESCU)

The EU has criticized the Romanian government’s plans, and opponents say they will weaken judicial independence.

Romania was the only country in the former communist bloc to maintain relations with Israel after the Six Day War in 1967.

Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu also maintained close ties with the Palestinian Liberation Organization under Yasser Arafat.

Romania abstained on a United Nations General Assembly Resolution that condemned the US administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy there.

The Romanian Foreign Ministry said the resolution — which was adopted with 128 “yes” votes, 9 “no” votes and 35 abstentions — “comes at a time when caution should be exercised.”

In a press release, the ministry said it was “rather necessary, at this stage, to re-launch the direct dialogue in order to unlock the peace process. Consequently, Romania has voted to “abstain” within the UNGA.”

At the time, Netanyahu called Iohannis to thank him for the abstention.

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