Czech Republic says Jerusalem consulate first step on path to embassy move

Czech Republic President Milos Zeman, an ardent supporter of Israel's, first spoke of an embassy relocation four years ago

Czech Republic President Milos Zeman addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, US, September 19, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/SHANNON STAPLETON)
Czech Republic President Milos Zeman addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, US, September 19, 2017.
The Czech Republic is set to open a Czech Center and honorary consulate in Jerusalem next month, but has balked at relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at this time.
“Last year, the Czech Republic has already expressed its position on Jerusalem as capital of the State of Israel, in its 1967 borders,” the Foreign Ministry in Prague said in a statement posted on its website.
“It thus only acknowledged what is standard practice by other states when making their official visits to Israel. According to usual diplomatic practice, states have their embassies in the capitals of the receiving states,” the ministry said.
“This is why the Czech Republic has decided, as a first step, to open an honorary consulate (led by Honorary Consul Mr. Dan Propper) in May and a new Czech Center by the end of this year, both in west Jerusalem. Our presence in Jerusalem should enhance our mutual cooperation in many fields,” the ministry said.
The US is set to open its embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, as part of Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations on the Gregorian calendar. Guatemala is similarly set to open an embassy one day later.
At a gala celebration at Prague Castle, the official office of the president of the Czech Republic, President Milos Zeman said the opening of an honorary consulate and the appointment of Israeli businessman Propper as honorary consul were the first two steps in a three-step process that would eventually lead to the relocation of the country’s embassy.
“There will be, I hope, three phrases of removal of the Czech Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” he said.
Zeman, an ardent supporter of Israel, first spoke of an embassy relocation four years ago. On Wednesday night he said that Israel needed concrete action not more warm phrases of friendship.
Zeman said that on this issue US President Donald Trump was following his lead, because he was the first to speak of the importance of acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
He ended his short speech with the phrase: “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Israeli leaders welcomed Zeman’s words about the embassy relocation, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Communications Minister Ayoub Kara issuing congratulatory statements.
“The implementation of this declaration will undoubtedly lead other countries to follow the path set out by President Trump to relocate their embassies to Jerusalem,” Elkin said.
His office, along with the Foreign Ministry, has spent the last year working to improve the international status of Jerusalem, he said.
“The process of transferring embassies to Jerusalem is an important step in the struggle for the status of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state,” Elkin said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely visited the Czech Republic on Wednesday to speak with officials about the importance of turning Zeman’s pledge into reality.
Hotovely praised Zeman's announcement on Twitter.
The international community has refrained from placing its embassies in west Jerusalem, saying the status of the city should be determined through final-status negotiations for a two-state solution. The few countries that had embassies in Jerusalem closed them in 1980, to protest the Knesset’s passage of Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, which anchored in a Basic Law Israeli sovereignty in the city over the pre-1967 lines.
In December, Trump announced that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and pledged to relocate the American Embassy.
His words are understood to refer solely to west Jerusalem.
To date, only Guatemala has committed to follow the US’s example.
Honduras and Romania have also spoken of such a move, but no final decisions have been made.
Last week, Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila submitted a draft proposal for the relocation to her cabinet.
On Wednesday, at the start of her two-day visit to Israel, Dancila spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the relocation and he thanked her for her efforts.
But approval would be needed from Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who has opposed the move.
Dancila is in Israel for the first time since she entered office in January, to bolster ties with Israel and to prepare for a joint Israeli-Romanian cabinet meeting that will take place in Romania later this year.
Romanian and Czech steps toward relocating their embassies are particularly significant because they mark a break with the 28-member European Union that likes to take a unified stand on such matters.
The Czech Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said its latest steps on this issue were in keeping with EU policy that holds that Jerusalem is the future capital of both an Israeli and a Palestinian state.
The opening of an honorary consulate “in no way prejudges the final agreement concerning Jerusalem, the same way as it is not being prejudged by diplomatic representations of several European countries that are seated in east Jerusalem,” the ministry said.