Palestinians and Arab League condemn opening of Czech Jerusalem office

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Hungarian Prime Minister Orban (both not pictured) in Jerusalem, Israel, 11 March 2021. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

The Palestinian Authority and the Arab League on Saturday (13 March) condemned the Czech Republic’s opening of a diplomatic office in Jerusalem as a violation of international law.

Prague opened a Jerusalem branch of its Israel embassy, which is located in Tel Aviv, on Thursday.

Israel donates vaccines to Czechia in exchange for diplomatic support

The Czech Republic received 5,000 jabs of the Moderna vaccine as a donation from Israel on Tuesday, a day after the Czech government decided to open its new diplomatic office in Jerusalem.

The inauguration was attended by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, two weeks after Israel sent 5,000 Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Czech Republic under a “vaccine diplomacy” programme that later came under legal scrutiny and was frozen.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry called Prague’s move “a blatant attack on the Palestinian people and their rights, a flagrant violation of international law,” and said it would harm peace prospects.

In Cairo, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a statement: “The legal status of Jerusalem will be affected by the decision of one country or another to open representative offices. East Jerusalem is an occupied land under the International law.”

Jerusalem’s status is one of the thorniest issues in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel annexed the eastern part of the city in a move not recognised internationally, and regards all of Jerusalem as its capital.

The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East War, as the capital of a future independent state.

Speaking beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, Babiš said Prague was a “strategic partner” of Israel, recalling how after 1948 Czechoslovakia helped it maintain its new-found independence by sending deliveries of fighter planes.

At the inauguration ceremony, Babiš said it “represents another milestone in our co-operation, it gives evidence that we see the importance of this great city.”

Only two countries have full embassies in Jerusalem: the United States – after former US President Donald Trump broke with decades of US policy to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – and Guatemala.

The Czech Republic is one of Israel’s strongest supporters in the European Union.

Although its formally supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it was named in an International Criminal Court pre-trial decision last month as one of the countries supporting Israel’s argument that the court should not investigate war crimes in the Palestinian territories.

Babiš said on Thursday his country regarded the ICC’s decision to proceed with an investigation as “unfortunate,” adding: “Though we respect the independence of the court, the Czech Republic doesn’t consider Palestine to be a state, therefore the court has no jurisdiction over it.”

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As Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš will visit Israel on Wednesday to learn more about vaccine strategy and production in a country he called “a leader in technologies” and “traditional partner”, the PM, together with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán …

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