Czech Republic to Israel: Use Mideast Crisis to Your Advantage

Israel may face yet more fallout in foreign relations, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Lubomír Zaorálek, warned Monday – adding his voice to the chorus of international diplomats urging Israel to acquiesce to the demands of the Palestinian Authority (PA) for territory. 

The Czech Republic has been one of the most sympathetic countries regarding Israel in Europe in recent years, opposing initiatives against Israel in various forums in the European Union (EU), and is only one of two EU countries to have opposed the United Nations (UN) recognition of the PA as "Palestine." 

But now, Zaorálek warned, "as your close friend, it is important to the Czech Republic to say that if the situation does not change we will be hard to maintain our position."

Diplomats involved in EU relations in Jerusalem stated to Walla! News that, over the past year, there has been a decline in support for Israel from the Republic – but added that, even today, it maintains a friendly and balanced approach on the subject of Israel-PA relations.

"We want to avoid initiatives against Israel, but it gets more difficult with the current government and with the opposition against a two-state solution," the minister said. 

Zaorálek spoke at the 15th Herzliya Conference on Sunday, and will meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu later Monday in his office in Jerusalem. This is his fourth visit to Israel. 

"I hope they listen to me, as a friend of Israel," he said ahead of the meeting in an interview with the website. "I hope that we can help Israel and the Palestinians find a better direction."

"I'm going to say to Prime Minister Netanyahu that he has a chance to do something big in his current position, but also [to warn that] there are dangers lurking for Israel."

Gaza 'a greenhouse for terrorism'

Zaorálek also visited Gaza for the first time, and while he expressed sympathy for Palestinian Arab civilians suffering from poverty and unemployment, he also warned that "it's a greenhouse for extremism and terrorism." 

He noted as well that many European countries are tired of investing in economic and humanitarian projects in Gaza, because the frequent wars mean that any progress usually gets decimated by the next conflict.

While he is "in favor of European involvement," he also warned that Israel's policy to support reconstruction of Gaza without a comprehensive political settlement (i.e. peace talks) is problematic.

"Without a comprehensive solution, investing in rebuilding now is like throwing money into an open pit," he said. "This means that all the work done today will be cleared in two years."

"This requires flexibility on both sides, including for the Palestinians to find a way to resolve their internal crisis between Fatah and Hamas."

Surprising allies

However, Zaorálek predicted that Israel could see surprising allies in the Middle East – if it proceeds carefully on the diplomatic front. 

"I think the situation in the Middle East has changed considerably in recent years," he said. "For years, the approach has been that Israel is surrounded by enemies and that it has almost no one to talk to in the area."

"Today, we see that because of big problems like Islamic State and tensions with Iran, there are some countries in the region who want to get closer to Israel and don't see it as an enemy," he said. "The question is whether Israel will take advantage of the great opportunity that it has to create new alliances, [and that] requires the government to act." 

"I'm going to tell the Prime Minister that we expect from Israel to reflect this new situation [in its policies]," he added. "Israel has a rare opportunity to create something new. You have many reasons to be proud of your country – its economy, democracy, innovation – and Israel can […] help stabilize the region." 

Zaorálek is disappointed with the current direction of the government, however, and said "the situation deteriorated after the last election." He added that the situation is "bound to hurt the two-state solution and the peace process."

Specifically, he said, "I feel compelled to talk about it here in Israel – not to create havoc but [to give advice that,] as a friend, I think settlement expansion makes the situation very complicated for us." 

From Jerusalem's side, Israel's main concern is that when Prime Minister Netanyahu says that Israel is committed to a two state solution, as he said yesterday in a conversation with the President of France, the world simply does not believe him.

But  Zaorálek, unlike many of his colleagues in Europe, still thinks there is reason for optimism.

"Maybe I'm naive, but I have a feeling that there is a willingness to move forward on your side. I hope I am not mistaken," he said.

Source: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/196420

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