Under Israeli pressure, Czechs said to consider Jerusalem embassy move

Israel’s envoy to Prague says PM Babis is ‘risk averse,’ but also heavily influenced by pro-Israel public opinion in his country

Czech Republic President Milos Zeman, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel on Monday October 7. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Czech Republic President Milos Zeman, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel on Monday October 7. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Under Israeli pressure, the Czech Republic has begun examining the practical implications of moving its embassy to Jerusalem, Channel 10 reported on Saturday.

In a classified cable written to the Foreign Ministry last week, Israel’s Ambassador to Prague Daniel Meron credited Jerusalem’s diplomatic efforts for developments on the issue in the Czech Republic, which “has begun a quiet internal staff evaluation to examine the possibilities and risks regarding the transfer of its embassy.”

Meron wrote that Israeli pressure following decisions from the US and Guatemala to move their respective embassies to Jerusalem have made the Czech Republic more open to following suit.

However, the decision will ultimately be made by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who is seen as particularly risk averse.

Czech billionaire Andrej Babis, chairman of the ANO movement (YES) arrives at ANO headquarters after Czech elections, on October 21, 2017 in Prague. (Michal Cizek/AFP)

“At the same time, the prime minister is very influenced by public opinion, which is well-known to be pro-Israel,” Meron wrote, adding that it was crucial for Jerusalem to continue its public outreach in Prague to cement that support.

The ambassador argued that Israel ought to utilize Czech President Milos Zeman, who has been a vocal supporter of the Jewish state and has recently advocated for the embassy move.

While acknowledging that he plays a largely ceremonial role, Meron wrote that Zeman still has sway in Prague.

Meron said Zeman had very much appreciated a letter that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee sent him earlier this month thanking him for his position in favor of the embassy move. The Czech president has also announced his plans to host an Israeli Independence Day celebration at his residence on April 25, the Israeli diplomat noted.

“The discussions [on this issue] continue and we have learned that a ministerial team was also set up, including the president’s adviser, the deputy foreign minister, and the prime minister’s adviser for internal coordination on the possibility of transferring the embassy to Jerusalem,” Meron wrote.

The Channel 10 report came less than two weeks after the Lidové noviny newspaper reported that Zeman, who in December announced his intention to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv, now wants to speed up the process.

However, the report also said that after consultation with its partners in the European Union, the country’s foreign ministry objected to moving the embassy. The report also said the Czech government does not currently own property in Jerusalem that would be suitable for its embassy.

In December, Zeman said he supported US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy but was disappointed that Washington had done it first.

“It makes me truly happy because, as I said during my visit to Israel four years ago, I would appreciate the transfer of the Czech Embassy to Jerusalem, and had it happened, we would have been the first to do so,” said Zeman, who was elected to a second five-year term in office the following month. “Now we may sooner or later follow the United States. In any case, it is still better than nothing.”

On December 6, Trump bucked decades of US foreign policy by formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and setting in motion plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. In February the US administration announced that it would open its Jerusalem embassy in May 2018 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence.

After Trump’s announcement, the Czech foreign ministry said it recognizes the pre-1967 West Jerusalem as the country’s capital, while noting the city should be a shared capital with the Palestinians.

“The ministry can start considering moving of the Czech embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem only based on results of negotiations with key partners in the region and in the world,” it said at the time.

Trump’s decision to move his country’s embassy, welcomed by Israel, has been condemned by leaders and foreign ministers across the world, who have said the city’s status should be determined through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

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