Kohout: Israel unclear on Jewish state demand

Palestinian state must be demilitarized, Czech FM Yan Kohout tells 'Post' in exclusive interview.

yan kohout yad vashem 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
yan kohout yad vashem 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Israeli government has not offered a clear picture of its demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a precondition for resuming stalled peace talks between the two sides, visiting Czech Republic Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post. "First we have to understand what is meant by this [demand]," said Kohout, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, but will pass it on to Sweden at the beginning of July. "So far, I can say that I don't have a clear picture on that." The minister did say that a demand the European Union deemed acceptable regarding the recognition of Israel's Jewish character in a future peace agreement, was UN Resolution 181, also called the 1947 UN Partition Plan, which calls for two states to be established within the Mandate of Palestine - one Jewish and one Arab - with equal rights for all peoples in both states. "Resolution 181 calls for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state," Kohout said. "But at the same time it gives equal rights to all of its citizens, and we think that now is the time to use this approach. Now we have an opportunity to relaunch direct negotiations without preconditions and serious concerns must be dealt with during these negotiations." Kohout said the demand that a future Palestinian state be demilitarized - a key part of Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu's policy speech at Bar-Ilan University last week - was already widely accepted. "That the Palestinian state be demilitarized has been part of previous negotiations," Kohout said, "and we certainly don't want to see any sort of arms race in the region. Israeli security concerns have always been laid out in peace talks, and how it will all work on the ground will be part of the [negotiation] process." But the minister also said that from the EU's standpoint, the issue of West Bank settlements would be less negotiable. "The settlement issue is very important for the European public," Kohout said. "And the EU position is that we want to see a stop, a freezing of all settlement activity. This is something we've expressed on many occasions." Asked about the exception of natural growth in existing settlements, the minster said that such growth has been difficult to gauge. "The problem has been that the data over the past years have shown both children being born [in the settlements] and migration from outside [into the settlements]. We do not consider [the latter] to be natural growth." Regarding Hamas, he said that the EU position on preconditions for engaging in negotiations with the Islamist group - i.e. recognizing Israel, renouncing terrorism and acknowledging previous agreements - were unchanged. "The EU position on Hamas is still the same and the preconditions are still valid," Kohout said. "But it is not up to us to move them forward, it must be them." Asked what the EU expected of Israel as far as the opening of crossings into Gaza, Kohout said that more humanitarian goods and supplies should be allowed to pass through. "From what I understand, there are some 800 items being requested in Gaza and only 90 of them are being allowed through," he said. "What we are asking for is to open the crossings for humanitarian goods, and then supervision from UNRWA and other NGOs, to act as monitoring bodies, to make sure items like cement and steel are being used for reconstruction efforts and not the building of rockets." Kohout also said he believed the opening of crossings could serve as a way to take power away from groups who are currently operating the smuggling tunnels beneath the Egyptian border. "Those who control the tunnels control the prices," he said. "And while we understand the Israeli security concerns, we also ask how effective [the closure of crossings] is when they're smuggling the different types of goods in anyways." The minister also reiterated the EU stance on a proposed upgrade in ties between Israel and the European Union, saying that while plans for an upgrade were unchanged, the recent fighting in Gaza had caused hesitation on behalf of some EU member states, and that the upgrade would now proceed within the "context" of the peace process. Finally, regarding the recent unrest in Iran, Kohout said the EU rejected accusations of the Iranian regime that they were interfering in Iranian internal affairs, but would respond to requests for support positively. "There are values that are important to us, such as democratic elections," Kohout said. "And to see such a huge movement against their election results, and the fact that the protesters were oppressed, is not acceptable. But direct interference is not something we would do."