Czech ministers set for joint meeting with Israeli counterparts in Jerusalem

Photo: Filip Jandourek

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and several members of his government are heading to Jerusalem for consultations with their Israeli counterparts, the third such high-level meeting since 2012. The agenda includes the broadening of economic ties, as well as cooperation in defence and science and research. However, the main aim of the trip may well be to assure the hosts that Prague has no intention of changing its pro-Israeli policies, says analyst Irena Kalhousová of the London School of Economics.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
“This time, the consultations are quite significant because there have been rumours about a change in the direction of the Czech foreign policy, which was supposed to be initiated by the Czech Foreign Affairs Ministry and its first deputy minister. Under this new direction, the Czech Republic should be less pro-Atlantic and much more critical towards Israeli policies.

“But from what I’ve heard so far from the Prime Minister’s office, the purpose of the meeting is to ensure the Israeli side that the Czechs are still very much interested in closely cooperating with Israel, and that yes, the Czech Republic might be more critical but in general, the close ties and warm relations will continue.”

We have recently head criticism by US officials of Czech President Miloš Zeman’s views on Russia and its role in the conflict in Ukraine. Do you expect the official Czech policy towards Israel and the Middle East will change?

“I think this is a big question but right now, I don’t expect much of change for two main reasons. First, regardless of his opinions on Russia, President Zeman is very critical of the Arab world and very pro-Israel.

“The prime minister’s office also seems to want to preserve the status quo, and I’m not sure that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be able to promote this change without the support of the president and the prime minister.

Miloš Zeman, Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: Filip Jandourek
“On the other hand, I think the problem is the consistency. We can be critical of Israel, that’s naturally not an issue, but we should be consistent and should develop a corresponding strategy, not just say populist things that we are pro or against something. I think this is a problem of the Czech foreign policy in general, not just in the case of Israel.”

This is the third time such consultations between Czech and Israeli government ministers are held. The Israeli government has had similar meetings with officials from other countries such as Poland – but why are they actually held between the Czechs and Israelis?

“It’s not that usual but it’s not that rare either. I think the reason for having these meetings with the Czechs is simply that the two countries are very close politically and also the economic cooperation is quite fruitful, especially for the Czech Republic.

“So I think there is a common interest, which for the Israeli may be more political and diplomatic while for the Czechs I think it’s economic. But there is a feeling that the countries share many things including culture and something I would call a world view.”