Romanian president slams plan to move embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

Iohannis steps in after PM Dăncilă announces country could become first EU state to follow US and Guatemala in relocating embassy

Romania's President Klaus Werner Iohannis gestures as he arrives for a European Union leaders summit at the European Council, in Brussels, October 20, 2016. (AFP/Thierry Charlier)
Romania's President Klaus Werner Iohannis gestures as he arrives for a European Union leaders summit at the European Council, in Brussels, October 20, 2016. (AFP/Thierry Charlier)

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis Friday sharply criticized plans announced by the head of the ruling party to move the country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Iohannis had “not been consulted or informed over this process,” his office said in a statement, adding that in his opinion the decision was “not based on firm, wide-ranging evaluations.”

On Thursday evening the head of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea, told the Antena 3 TV channel: “The decision has been taken… procedures [for the move] have started.”

Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă, a Social Democrat, on Wednesday proposed the move together with Dragnea, and while many members of the ruling party appear in favor of relocating the Embassy, the final say on the matter lies with Iohannis, a right-leaning independent. A government spokesman refused to comment on the issue when asked by AFP.

Iohannis, who is from the center-right and has expressed numerous disagreements with the government, said he had the authority to “take decisions relating to Romania’s foreign policy” and underlined that Bucharest’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian question “had not changed.”

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

“At this stage a transfer of the embassy would represent a violation of international law,” he said. “The government’s initiative could eventually represent, at the most, the beginning of a process of evaluation… which could only be finalised after the conclusion of peace talks.”

In December US President Donald Trump sparked global controversy, and adoration in Israel, by announcing that the US would move its embassy to Jerusalem.

Romania would be the first EU country to follow suit.

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who met with Dăncilă and other top Romanian officials in Bucharest last week to push for the Embassy relocation, seemed optimistic that Bucharest would follow through on the announcement.

“I congratulate the speaker of the Romanian parliament on his announcement today to the media according to which Romania will commence the process of moving the Romanian embassy to Jerusalem,” she wrote on her Twitter account last Thursday. “This was the spirit of our meeting last week in Bucharest, and I hope to see the Romanian Embassy in Jerusalem soon.”

Next week, Hotovely is due in the Czech Republic, which reportedly is considering to move the Embassy as well.

Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry on Thursday evening did not comment on the announcement.

Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that at least six countries are “seriously” discussing with Israel relocating their embassies to Jerusalem.

So far, the US and Guatemala are the only two countries that have formally announced such a move.

“Recognizing reality is the way you build peace. You cannot build peace on a foundation of lies because it crashes on the rocks of reality. It’s important to establish those principles that will ultimately guide peace: that Israel has a capital, that the Jewish people have had a capital for 3,000 years and that it’s called Jerusalem – is uncontestable. It’s time to recognize that fact,” Netanyahu said at a reception for the diplomatic corps at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin (C) meet foreign diplomats at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Israel’s 70th Independence Day on April 19, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“I’ve decided that the first ten embassies to come here will get preferential treatment,” told the diplomats. “We’ll help you! All of you should do that.”

Romania abstained on a United Nations General Assembly Resolution that condemned the US administration’s December 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the Embassy to the city.

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 President Iohannis to thank him for the abstention.

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