Why Israel didn’t celebrate when Moldova vowed to move its embassy from Tel Aviv

Ramallah rushed to condemn the Eastern European ‘rogue state,’ but Jerusalem feels it’s being used by an increasingly isolated PM in Chisinau who won’t be able to keep his promise

Raphael Ahren

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) hosts Moldavian Prime Minister Pavel Filip in his Jerusalem office,  November 9, 2017 (Amos Ben Gershom,/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) hosts Moldavian Prime Minister Pavel Filip in his Jerusalem office, November 9, 2017 (Amos Ben Gershom,/GPO)

Imagine an Eastern European country the size of Belgium vowing to move its embassy to Jerusalem — and the Israeli government not seeming to give a hoot.

That’s exactly what happened this week after the government of Moldova, a country of 3.5 million people situated between Romania and Ukraine, announced that it had decided “to transfer the headquarters” of its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the Holy City.

“It was a long overdue commitment to support our allies,” the country’s prime minister, Pavel Filip, tweeted on Tuesday.

The government’s official statement referred to the “political instability and uncertainty” in its own country — which Jerusalem believes makes it exceedingly unlikely the decision will be implemented — but that didn’t prevent the Palestinians from denouncing Moldova as a “rogue state” that is “complicit in Israeli crimes.”

The executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, for instance, “strongly condemn[ed] Moldova’s unlawful decision,” calling it an “an act of unreserved hostility against the Palestinian people and their rights.”

The Moldovan prime minister has placed his country “among the rogue states that could be held accountable by international law for their actions,” the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation — the world’s largest organization of Muslim states — on Thursday chimed in as well, condemning Chisinau’s decision as “illegal.”

And the Israeli government? Absolute radio silence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely all issued zero statements about Chisinau’s ostensible embassy move. Neither did Avigdor Liberman — a former foreign minister and probably the most prominent Israeli to hail from the Moldovan capital (he was born in the city, which is also known as Kishinev, when it was still part of the Soviet Union.)

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon declined to comment for this article.

When other countries announced their intention to move their embassies to Jerusalem, Israeli officials were generally quick to issue praise and congratulations.

In March, for example, Netanyahu took to Twitter to applaud Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila for promising to relocate her country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to the capital — even though he was acutely aware that she did not have the power to actually do so.

Israeli officials also didn’t hesitate to welcome moves by countries such as Brazil and the Czech Republic, which had vowed to transfer their respective embassies to Jerusalem but ultimately sufficed with opening cultural missions or business offices in the city.

So what makes Moldova different?

Israel is ignoring the Republic of Moldova’s announcement this week because it is viewed it as an obvious last-ditch attempt to curry favor with the Jewish state and, more importantly, its ally the United States, by a government that has no legitimacy and no authority to carry out any significant steps. Indeed, officials in Jerusalem feel like they’re being used by a lame-duck prime minister who is making promises few people believe he can fulfill.

What happened in the halls of power in Chisinau?

This week’s surprising embassy decision is the result of a severe constitutional crisis in the country, which analysts predict will end with the current government being replaced.

In its official statement Tuesday, Prime Minister Filip acknowledged that his Jerusalem announcement was made “urgently” in order to prevent the opposition from taking advantage of “the political instability and uncertainty in the country, as well as the latest political developments.”

The government was committed to the embassy relocation before the recent crisis, and now wants to make sure it is respected, “no matter what will happen after the early elections,” Filip said.

After the regularly held February 26 parliamentary elections, the pro-Russian Party of Socialists, known as PSRM, and a pro-Western bloc called ACUM created a coalition, ousted Filip, and declared center-right politician Maia Sandu the new prime minister.

But Filip’s center-left Democratic Party, which controls the Constitutional Court, insists it is the only legitimate ruler of the republic and considers the ACUM-PSRM coalition illegal, explained Jakub Pieńkowski, an analyst of Central Europe at the Polish Institute of International Affairs.

Vladimir Plahotniuc, the leader of the Democratic Party, right, watches Moldova’s Prime Minister Pavel Filip speak during a press statement in Chisinau, Moldova, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

“The government of Sandu was recognized by the EU and most of its member states, but also by the US and Russia,” he told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

Facing overwhelming opposition, Filip “tries to make mischief” and drive a wedge between Brussels and Washington by declaring his plan to move the Moldovan embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Pieńkowski added. His party hopes that support from Israel and the US could help it stay in power, he said.

Unlike the US, which moved its own embassy to Jerusalem last year and encouraged other countries to follow suit, the EU is staunchly opposed to its member states relocating their missions to the city.

Filip must recall former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who promised that the US would be taking note of which countries supported the US embassy move

If and when the Sandu government finally will comes to power, its most important partner will be the EU and its biggest member states, Pieńkowski noted.

Once it overcomes the current constitutional crisis, Moldova will likely try to ask Brussels for political and financial support, and moving the embassy would not be helpful in gaining favor with the EU, he postulated.

Moldova’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, Gabriela Moraru, declined to comment for this article.

“Filip must recall former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who [in December 2017] promised that the US would be taking note of which countries supported the US embassy move, and which ones opposed,” said Zaha Hassan, a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “He’s apparently hoping the US will step into the political fray and back his continued hold on power.”

Israel refrained from praising Filip — who visited Jerusalem in November 2017 — because it has been burned in the past by similar promises, added Hassan, who researches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has in the past served as legal adviser to the Palestinian Authority.

“The Israeli government was quick to express its thanks to the governments of Paraguay and Brazil for their announcements that they would be moving their embassies to Jerusalem, only to have Paraguay reverse itself and Brazil to only agree to open up a business office,” she told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

“The Israeli government probably doesn’t want any further embarrassment, given the circumstances within which Moldova made the announcement.”

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed