Jerusalem (AFP) – Czech Republic President Milos Zeman told Israel’s parliament on Monday that he would push to have his country’s embassy moved to Jerusalem, but acknowledged the decision depended on his government.
Zeman is a strong backer of Israel and has long favoured moving the Czech embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem, as US President Donald Trump did in May.
But the Czech government has also said it intends to respect the European Union’s common position on the issue.
“Well friends, I am no dictator unfortunately, but I promise I’ll do my best,” he said in a speech to the Knesset, or parliament, during a state visit to the country, drawing applause.
He also accused European nations of sometimes acting as “cowards” and called for unstinting solidarity with Israel.
On Tuesday Zeman will hold talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and inaugurate a new Czech House in Jerusalem that will include tourism and trade promotion, a move Czech leaders have portrayed as a first step toward moving the embassy.
In May, the Czech Republic reopened an honorary consulate in Jerusalem following its closure in 2016 owing to the death of the honorary consul.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.
It considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
International consensus — including the EU — has been that the city’s status must be negotiated by the two sides.
Netanyahu has sought alliances with EU leaders sympathetic to his cause and denounced the “hypocritical and hostile attitude” of the EU, which is critical of Israel’s occupation and settlement building in the West Bank.
Zeman said in his speech that he is “the best friend of Israel in my own country.”
“Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the Czech Republic is the best friend of Israel in Europe. I wonder why only in Europe.”
He also condemned Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, and said he welcomed hearing about a proposal long-advocated by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin for a confederation with the Palestinians.
“I was inspired by your idea about one state with two nations, Mr. President,” Zeman said when meeting Rivlin.
The Palestinians are deeply sceptical of such proposals, fearing they would not be granted equal rights.