Controversial UN vote prompts Netanyahu visit

Benjamin Netanyahu, photo: CTK

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Prime Minister Petr Nečas on Wednesday as part of a brief visit before heading to Germany. The aim was to thank his Czech counterpart for supporting Israel’s stance against the Palestinian Authority gaining a non-member observer status at the UN. The Czech Republic was one of only nine nations that voted against the resolution at last Thursday’s meeting of the General Assembly – a decision that drew criticism from many sides.

Benjamin Netanyahu,  Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
With 138 nations voting to give the Palestinian Authority an official status at the UN, the Czech “nay” was no threat to President Abbas’ efforts to strengthen his government’s position on the international stage. Even though the country has been a steady supporter of Israel since the fall of Communism, the Czech vote elicited surprise and criticism.

The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded last week by saying that the decision was consistent with the long-term foreign policy, criticizing the unilateral nature of the Palestinian bid. It also noted that although the Czech Republic is an ally of Israel it had also made clear efforts to help the Palestinian Authority. Deputy Foreign Minister Jiří Schneider said that the ministry feels this change of status in the UN will not be constructive:

“This step is not helpful at all. It may have symbolic significance for President Abbas, but it won’t help in reaching a productive outcome. We understand that there is great frustration [from Palestinians] compounded over decades, but only bilateral negotiations can lead to a successful resolution. We have always had good relations with Israel, and this is not a matter of a quid pro quo. Our vote was not a surprise to anyone.”

Mahmoud Abbas,  photo: CTK
Nevertheless, the decision of the Czech government has faced strong criticism at home and abroad. Critics noted that Czech diplomats could have abstained from voting, like most of its neighbors, so as not to express strong opposition to Palestinian efforts. Shadow Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek from the Social Democratic Party, said that Palestinian diplomats needed the international support in order to lead successful negotiations. He suggested that the Czech Republic’s decision to reject this move was a mistake:

“I think the peace process is leaning towards a two-state solution. If we agree with this position, then it does not make sense to vote against giving Palestine basic non-member observer status in the UN. This is why I think there was no other European nation that questioned this direction with their vote.”

Jiří Schneider,  photo: Jindřich Rambousek
Despite the Czech Republic’s recent support for Israel, it doesn’t mean it will back the country at all costs. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s controversial announcement after last Thursday’s vote to support new settlements in the West Bank only complicated matters. Deputy Foreign Minister Jiří Schneider again:

“We are and have always been firmly against unilateral action. So, we are critical of this step as well. It does not bode well for possibilities of future negotiations. And negotiations are the only way to move forward, and not through a vote in New York.”

After Mr Netanyahu’s visit to Prague, he heads to Berlin. Although Germany abstained from voting on the Palestinian bid, Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to take a tougher stance with the Israeli prime minister.