President Miloš Zeman says his country plans to transfer its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, following a move being led by US President Donald Trump and emulated by Guatemala; Zeman says move to take place in 3 steps; no timetable provided, but Netanyahu expresses hope for completion by end of year.
Associated Press and Itamar Eichner
Czech President Miloš Zeman said on Wednesday his country is planning to transfer its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
During a reception making Israel’s 70th Independence Day in Prague Castle, the official office of the President of the Czech Republic, Zeman reiterated his intention to move the embassy.
Shortly after, the Czech Foreign Ministry published a statement clarifying the matter, saying that the fate of Jerusalem will be decided in a final status agreement.
“The Czech Republic fully respects the joint policy of the European Union, which sees Jerusalem as the future capital of the State of Israel and the future State of Palestine,” the statement read.
Speaking at the70th birthday celebration, Zeman said that it was a “great honor” to invite Israeli representatives to the capital. “As you know, this is the first opportunity at the Prague Castle to host a celebration for any country. So dear friends from Israel, welcome to Prague,” the president continued.
The second step, he noted, would include the transfer to Jerusalem of the Czech Center for Culture, Economics and Tourism. “In a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he said ‘I will give you my home.’ The Czech Republic is not so rich that it can refuse such a generous offer. This is wonderful,” he quipped.
“In any event, I hope that Bibi will fulfil his promise in four years. Then I said we would transfer the embassy to Jerusalem,” Zeman said, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “By the way, I rejected the claim that we had imitated the United States of America. On the contrary, the US is the one who imitated my suggestion.”
Many Europeans, Zeman pointed out, along with other leaders, had condemned the Jerusalem move, who he slighted as self-styled “moderates. But I call them cowards. It isn’t popular but I think that it’s the right thing. In any event, allow me to finish with one sentence—next year in Jerusalem.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman praised Zeman for taking the lead in Europe on the Jerusalem issue. “I praise the Czech president for his decision to transfer their Czech Embassy to Jerusalem,” Lieberman said. “The step of leadership by US President Donald Trump foreshadows a change in the attitude of the countries of the world toward Jerusalem. Jerusalem is our eternal and cherished capital, and we will continue to strengthen it and build in it.
Zeman says the move will take place in three steps: An honorary consulate will be opened in Jerusalem next month followed by other Czech institutions before the embassy’s actual transfer.
Beyond the consulate’s opening, which he said would open next month, he gave no further timetable.
In a letter to Zeman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hoped he would jointly open the new embassy in Jerusalem at the end of this year.
The Czech foreign ministry says the opening of the consulate and the Czech Cultural center in Jerusalem is the first step on the way of having its embassy in the capital of the host country.
But it didn’t immediately confirm the transfer of the embassy.
In April, Zeman expressed his desire that his country would transfer its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and that it is a “top priority” for him.
The decision, he noted at the time, is in the hands of the government but according to a newspaper report in the country, also at the same time, “the subject is not currently on the agenda.”
Israel’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, Daniel Meron, said that “the Czech Republic is one of Israel’s closest allies in Europe and President Zeman himself is a true friend of the Jewish people.”
Zeman would be the third political domino to fall behind Trump, with Guatemala announcing almost immediately after the US president that it would follow suit. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said at a conference in Washington that his country plans to move its embassy in May, two days after the US embassy makes the same move.