Czech Republic's President Milos Zeman (L) stands next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit in 2013.
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
Miloš Zeman, the president of the Czech Republic – one of the friendliest countries to Israel in Europe – arrived on Sunday for a four-day state visit. During his visit, Zeman will inaugurate an office in Jerusalem he said will be the precursor to moving the country’s embassy to the city.
Zeman will open the Czech House in the capital on Tuesday, in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu was present at the opening of the US, Guatemala and Paraguay embassies in the capital in May. Paraguay has since moved its embassy back to Tel Aviv.
The Czech House will house the Czech cultural, investment, trade and tourism offices. Zeman’s office issued a statement in September saying the Czech House “is to be the first step with the intention to relocate the embassy of the Czech Republic to Jerusalem, in accordance with international law.”
Zeman, ardently pro-Israel, said at a gala celebration in April at the Prague Castle in honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary that the appointment of an honorary consul that month, followed by the establishment of the Czech cultural center in the city, were the first two steps of a three-step process that he hoped would culminate in the opening of the embassy.
“There will be, I hope, three phases of removal of the Czech Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” he said at the time.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who will have the final say on whether the embassy will be moved to Jerusalem, has in the past indicated however that Prague will not break from the EU’s position on the issue. The EU strongly opposed the US decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy there.
East and Central European countries inside the EU that have hinted at an interest in moving their embassies to Jerusalem have come under pressure from other EU countries against the moves. As The Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal reported last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in April, urging him not to move his country's embassy. Weinthal reported that it is believed that Merkel called other European politicians as well as part of a campaign to block any EU countries from making the move.
The Czech Republic and Romania were two of only five of the 28 EU countries that abstained on a UN resolution in December slamming the US for the move. The other three countries were Hungary, Latvia and Poland. Lithuania did not show up for the vote.
In addition to inauguration the new office and meeting Netanyahu, Zeman is scheduled on Monday to become the first Czech president to address the Knesset.
His visit is set to begin with the laying of a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl, and also include meetings with President Reuven Rivlin – who will also host a state dinner in his honor – and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
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