Unilateral recognition of Palestine as a state is noneffective because there will be no consensus between Palestine and Israel, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek told a meeting of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Zaoralek is in the region to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials and is due to travel to Ramallah on Thursday.
It is uncertain whether he will receive as welcome a reception there as he has received in Israel, as the Czech Republic was the only European country to vote against the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral attempt to attain statehood at the United Nations.
He visits Israel as European politicians are increasingly calling on their governments to recognize “Palestine” as a state. The British House of Commons has already done so, and both the French and Spanish parliaments are expected to hold similar votes.
Zaoralek described relations between the Czech Republic and Israel as “excellent,” adding that he hoped that they will remain that way.
He noted that in two weeks time there will be government-to-government meetings between Israel and the Czech Republic. Both Zaoralek and council director Laurence Weinbaum reviewed the long and close history of Israel and the Czech Republic, which dates back to long before the establishment of the state.
Zaoralek mentioned that Tomas Masaryk, the founder and first president of Czechoslovakia, had visited Mandate-administered Palestine in 1927, while Weinbaum said that the esteem in which Masaryk is held in Israel is evidenced by places that have been named after him in different parts of the country.
When other countries refused to help the nascent State of Israel, Czechoslovakia provided it with weapons and military training. The favor was returned when the Czech Republic wanted to prepare its pilots for Afghanistan. Israel was the only country that agreed to have them train on its soil, and Czech pilots trained at Israel Air Force bases in the Negev.
Like all Communist Bloc countries with the exception of Romania, Czechoslovakia severed relations with Israel in 1967, but during the Prague Spring of 1968, said Zaoralek, there was talk regarding the restoration of diplomatic ties. The 1967 Six Day War generated considerable discussion on Czech television, he said. “We felt something was changing.”
But the real change did not come till 1989, when Czechoslovakia experienced the Velvet Revolution (the 25th anniversary celebrations of which begin on November 17), and diplomatic relations were resumed in April, 1990.
Czech president Vaclav Havel was the first leader of the Central European countries that had been under Communist rule to visit Israel, which according to Zaoralek “immediately became one of the best allies of Czechoslovakia.”
Almost 20 years later, and after Czechoslovakia harmoniously split into two republics, the situation is the same yet different insofar as the Czech Republic’s relations with Israel are concerned, said Zaoralek.
The positive feelings toward Israel remain unchanged, but now that the Czech Republic is fully integrated into the European Union and NATO, “we have to coordinate our voices with those of our partners.”
Zaoralek stressed the importance of “a unified voice” emerging from the EU, especially in relation to crisis situations, be they economic or political.
His government does not intend to make any strategic change toward the region, though it may think of other options, he said.
The foreign minister reiterated his country’s declaration at various international forums, saying that “the Czech Republic fully supports Israel’s right to self-defense.”
He also made the point that his country’s government understands that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the only conflict in the Middle East, and that if it is resolved, this does not mean that peace will automatically engulf the whole region, although it may eventually lead to peace.
The only possible and viable solution to the conflict, he said, is a two state solution, with the two states living alongside each other in peace and cooperation.
Having worked in Czech Television, and having lived under the Communist regime, Zaoralek said that he could appreciate the difference between the perception of mass media and that of reality. The general perception, he said, is that Israel is obstructing the peace process by creating more settlements in the Palestinian territories.
“If we want a viable Palestinian state, it must have enough territory for a workable economic structure,” he said, emphasizing that scattered Jewish settlements do not allow for this.
He urged that both sides refrain from taking steps that will escalate the conflict.
With anti-Semitism now rampant in Europe, Zaoralek was happy to report that the Czech Republic has one of the lowest levels of anti-Semitism.
“I’m proud of it,” he said.