The Czech Republic may find it increasingly difficult to maintain its largely pro-Israel stance should the Jewish state fail to take viable steps toward establishing a Palestinian state and achieving regional peace, the European country’s foreign minister warned Monday.
Speaking during an interview with the Walla news site, Lubomír Zaorálek declared that Israel will likely suffer international isolation and be labeled a racist state if it doesn’t change its policies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The comments closely echoed those made by US President Barack Obama earlier this month, highlighting growing frustration with Israel over the lack of peace progress from two of the country’s most steadfast allies.
“As a close friend of yours, it is important for the Czech Republic to say that if the situation does not change it will be hard to maintain our position,” Zaorálek, who is currently visiting Israel, warned. “We want to avoid initiatives against Israel, but it is getting more difficult with the current government and with the opposition to the two-state solution,” he said. “What is the alternative, to deteriorate towards apartheid?”
In comments to a Czech news agency, Zaorálek also slammed settlement building as torpedoing peace hopes: “If the building of settlements continues on the territories that fall under Palestinian autonomy, and on which no decision has been made that they should belong to Israel … it is actually a direct torpedoing of this process, [namely] the formation of two independent states,” Zaorálek said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said later Monday, speaking to the press with Zaorálek ahead of their talks, that the Palestinians had effectively turned their backs on peace negotiations time after time.
“Israel wants to achieve a durable peace,” Netanyahu said. “This peace means that we do not want to see a repetition of what happened in Gaza, what happened in Lebanon. We left Lebanon – Hezbollah came in. We left Gaza – Hamas came in. Both are supported by Iran. We cannot afford to have that happen a third time. But we don’t want a single unitary state. We want two states for two peoples: a Jewish state, a Jewish nation state – Israel, living in peace with a demilitarized Palestinian state.”
“Unfortunately, the Palestinians don’t negotiate. They ran away from negotiations. They ran away from [Ehud] Barak; they ran away from [Ariel] Sharon; they ran away from [Ehud] Olmert; they ran away from me.”
Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of attempting “to get boycotts on Israel for there not being negotiations which they refuse to enter,” and called on the international community to “stop giving the Palestinians a free pass.”
The prime minister stressed that he was committed to the two-state solution, but was opposed to Palestinian attempts to discredit Israel.
“I know, Foreign Minister, that you stand with me in opposition to this extremist agenda,” Netanyahu said. “I want you to know that we are committed to a solution of two states for two peoples. We are committed to negotiations. It’s about time that the focus was placed on the Palestinians and they should be told: ‘Are you committed to a solution of two states for two peoples? Are you committed to open-ended negotiations, that is, without preconditions? Are you committed to peace?”
Prague is considered one of Israel’s staunchest supporters in the international arena. In 2012, the Czech Republic was the only European Union member state to vote against granting Palestine nonmember state observer status at the United Nations.
Earlier Monday, Zaorálek met with deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely, who expressed her gratitude to the Czech nation for standing alongside Israel and opposing boycotts and unilateral initiatives leveled against the Jewish state.
“I hope I am listened to, as a friend who loves Israel and cares for it,” Zaorálek said during the Walla interview. “I hope that we can help Israel and the Palestinians move in a better direction. I’m going to tell Prime Minister Netanyahu that he has a chance to do something great in his current term in office, but that there are dangers to Israel lurking as well.”
Zaorálek also warned that delays in rehabilitating the Gaza Strip, which he visited on Sunday, had turned it into a “a factory for extremism and terrorism.
“What I saw is a real disaster,” he said. “I met young people who have no future and no hope. The rate of unemployment among the young there is unimaginable. It reminded me of encounters with young people in Greece.”
The Gaza Strip was devastated following the July-August conflict last year between Israel and Hamas-led fighters. The 50-day war is said to have killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, many of them civilians, according to Palestinian sources in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Israel maintains that up to half of the dead were combatants and blames Hamas for all civilian casualties, since it situated its military infrastructure in residential areas. Seventy-two Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed in the hostilities as well.
Zaorálek urged Israel to come up with a comprehensive political plan for the rehabilitation of the Strip, and expressed hope that the Palestinians would find a way to resolve internal conflicts between Fatah and Hamas.
He noted that many European countries have grown wary of investing in economic and humanitarian projects in the Strip for fear that another round of violence may soon erupt again.
“I am in favor of European involvement [in Gaza] and I think it is absolutely correct for us to continue working toward improving the situation, but there are already people saying in two years we can expect another war and [all our efforts] will go down the drain,” the Czech diplomat said.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.