The Americas are moving their embassies to Jerusalem. Europe? Not so fast
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The Americas are moving their embassies to Jerusalem. Europe? Not so fast

Israeli officials hail Czech announcement of gradual relocation, but Prague, like others on the continent, is sticking to EU consensus

Raphael Ahren

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

Czech President Milos Zeman speaking at a reception in honor of Israel's 70th birthday at Prague Castle, April 25, 2018 (Facebook)
Czech President Milos Zeman speaking at a reception in honor of Israel's 70th birthday at Prague Castle, April 25, 2018 (Facebook)

Four years ago, when Czech President Milos Zeman first called for the relocation of his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered him his own private home for that purpose.

“The Czech Republic is not such a rich country [that it could afford] to refuse such a nice proposal,” Zeman joked on Wednesday evening at a reception at Prague Castle celebrating Israel’s 70th birthday.

“Anyway, I hope that Bibi will fulfill his promise,” he added, referring to the prime minister by his nickname.

Israeli politicians responded with jubilation.

But as things currently stand, Netanyahu will likely get to keep his apartment, on the capital’s Gaza Street — at least for the foreseeable future. This is because despite Zeman’s declaration that evening about the launch of a three-stage process to relocated the Czech embassy to Jerusalem, the government in Prague remains opposed to the move.

Projev prezidenta republiky při recepci k 70. výročí nezávislosti Státu Izrael, OVTV, Pražský hrad, středa 25. dubna 2018

Posted by Miloš Zeman – prezident České republiky on Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Similarly, the fact that senior politicians in Romania have decided to advance the transfer of their country’s embassy to Jerusalem doesn’t mean it’s going to happen anytime soon, as the person who gets to make the ultimate decision vehemently rejects such a step under the present circumstances.

In Prague, the president, who has long been in favor of the move, has no executive power, while the government, which calls the shots, opposes it. In Bucharest, it’s the other way around: the government is pushing for the move, but the president — who is bitterly opposed to it — has the last word on the matter.

Israeli politicians cheered Zeman’s announcement, either failing to understand or unwilling to accept that the Czech Republic may not move its embassy for years, if ever.

Housing Minister Yoav Galant arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 18, 2016. (Marc Israel
Sellem)

Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant went so far as to urge the Jerusalem municipality to prepare a segment of the city for the influx of foreign missions, similar to Washington, DC’s Embassy Row.

But for now, the Czech government only committed to, “as a first step,” opening an honorary consulate next month, according to a statement the Foreign Ministry in Prague issued moments after Zeman’s speech.

The idea is neither new nor particularly noteworthy. Other countries have honoray consuls in Jerusalem. The Czech Republic used to have an honorary consul, Jerusalem-based journalist Tatiana Hoffman, who served in the mostly symbolic position until her death in November 2016.

Israeli businessman Dan Propper attends a session of the Knesset’s Finance Committee on December 25, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Her freshly appointed successor, businessman Dan Propper, does not reside in the capital and indicated in an interview with Army Radio Thursday morning that he does not intend to spend a lot of time there.

The second stage of Zeman’s plan includes opening a new “Czech center” in the city.

“Our presence in Jerusalem should enhance our mutual cooperation in many fields,” the Czech ministry’s statement said. It made no mention of even considering moving the embassy.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesperson for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told The Times of Israel on Thursday. “We look forward to the opening of a Czech cultural center in Jerusalem and we hope that in the near future we will welcome the Czech embassy in the capital of the State of Israel.”

In private conversations, European and Israeli officials acknowledge that Zeman’s announcement by no means prefaces the speedy relocation of the Czech embassy.

Czech President Miloš Zeman (L) meets with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely at an event in honor of Israel’s 70th Independence Day at Prague Castle, on April 25, 2018. (Courtesy)

A senior European source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, pointed out that the Czech Foreign Ministry statement says Prague “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.”

While Prague last year recognized Jerusalem in its pre-1967 borders as Israel’s capital, the EU sees the city as the “future capital” of two states once an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is signed, the source said. In the absence of an accord, however, the EU considers any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital a violation of international law.

International law is also what Romanian President Klaus Iohannis cited as one of his reasons for rejecting the government’s plan to move its embassy to Jerusalem.

Romania’s President Klaus Werner Iohannis, October 20, 2016. (AFP/Thierry Charlier)

In a statement issued last week, Iohannis reaffirmed that “Romania’s position on the status of Jerusalem remains in line with the one established by the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly.”

Specifically, he quoted Security Council Resolution 478 from 1980, which called on member states not to set up diplomatic missions in Jerusalem. “Therefore, at this stage, relocating the Romanian Embassy to Jerusalem would represent a violation of the relevant international law,” the president stated.

Iohannis, who is up for reelection in December 2019, urged all his country’s decision-makers to take into consideration the “strategic consequences, including on national security and Romanian citizens” before making any major foreign policy decisions.

“The final decision, from the constitutional point of view, belongs to the president of Romania,” he stressed.

On Thursday, Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilăs and the head of the country’s Chamber of Deputies, Liviu Dragnea — both ardent proponents of the embassy move — were in Jerusalem for meetings with top government officials.

PM Netanyahu hosts Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilăs in Jerusalem, April 26, 2018. (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Netanyahu, in his meeting with Dăncilăs, “expressed appreciation for the Romanian government’s approval of a draft decision on initiating the transfer of the Romanian Embassy to Jerusalem and welcomed the statements of the president of the parliament in support of the move,” according to a readout his office provided.

The readout issued by Dăncilăs’s office spoke of “a framework launching the debate on relocating Romania’s Embassy.”

It did not sound like the move is imminent.

Indeed, in his statement last week, President Iohannis said the government’s initiative “may possibly, at most, represent the beginning of an evaluation process on the matter, which can only be completed when the negotiations on the Middle East peace process have been concluded.”

Dăncilăs herself admitted Thursday that the her desire to move the embassy is not about to come to fruition.

“We are consulting in the issue with all the institutions in the country. The first step has been taken and it is important for us to implement the decision,” she said during a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, “but unfortunately we do not have support from all the parties as we would like.”

Besides the Czech and the Romanians, another of Israel’s staunches allies in Europe this week made plain that moving the embassy is currently a no-no. Germany, in a written response to a lawmaker’s query, said that generally every country has the right to choose its own capital, but that Jerusalem remains out of bounds until Israel makes peace with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu last week announced that at least half a dozen countries are considering moving their embassies to Jerusalem. But if Israel cannot get Germany and the Czech Republic — the Jewish state’s staunchest allies in the continent — to relocate their missions from Tel Aviv, it seems unlikely that anyone else in Europe will make the move first.

President Rivlin hosts Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilăs in Jerusalem, April 26, 2018. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

Still, it’s not like lovers of Zion won’t have reason to celebrate next month. On May 12, the US will inaugurate its new embassy in the capital’s Arnona neighborhood with what is shaping up to be an impressive series of festivities, including a large reception on May 13 hosted by the Foreign Ministry.

Freshly confirmed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is reported to be set to head a 250-strong US delegation, which will include the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and likely also Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump.

Two days later, Guatemala will follow suit and inaugurate its new embassy at Jerusalem’s Malha Technological Park. President Jimmy Morales is set to attend that event.

Earlier this week, the parliament of Honduras passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the country’s embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But in Honduras, as in Prague and elsewhere, the final decision rests with the executive branch, which has not yet made a decision on the matter. President Juan Orlando Hernández, during a meeting this week with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin in Tegucigalpa, said he would create a professional committee to examine a possible embassy relocation.

Posted by ‎יריב לוין – Yariv Levin‎ on Tuesday, 24 April 2018

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