Foreign Minister Kavan's trip to Middle East under fire

Ariel Sharon and Jan Kavan, photo: CTK

Is Czech foreign policy towards the Middle East one-sided? That is a question analysts have been discussing since the Czech Foreign Minister, Jan Kavan, visited the Middle East at the week-end. Mr Kavan met two senior Israeli officials - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Simon Peres - but a meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat scheduled for Saturday was cancelled and in the end Mr Kavan only met the Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shas. And as Dita Asiedu reports, it's unclear why the planned meeting with Mr Arafat did not take place.

Ariel Sharon and Jan Kavan, photo: CTK
Was Mr Arafat too busy to meet the Czech foreign minister or is there truth in claims that Foreign Minister Kavan was ordered to cancel the meeting with Mr Arafat by Prime Minister Milos Zeman? Ever since Mr Zeman's trip to the Middle East in February, his reservations about the Palestinian leader and people have been no secret. In an interview for an Israeli newspaper, he compared Mr Arafat to Hitler and added that Palestinians should either put up with Israeli conditions or face expulsion from the region, just as the Sudeten Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia after WWII.

Critics say that Mr Zeman is letting his personal feelings dictate his government's foreign policy. Whilst the Palestinian Authority's representative here in Prague is still waiting for an official reaction from home, the Czech government spokesman Libor Roucek said the cancellation had not come from Prime Minister Zeman's side:

"Mr Zeman didn't speak to Mr Kavan at all. We were in Brussels visiting NATO and EU headquarters and then we went to Trencin, Slovakia, for the Visegrad Four and Benelux Group's summit meeting so Mr Zeman and Mr Kavan did not speak to each other at all. Mr Zeman did not send any fax or message to Mr Kavan."

Mr Kavan's trip was aimed at trying to improve ties between the Palestinian Authority and the Czech Republic and iron out differences that resulted from Mr Zeman's comments in February. Instead, critics say it has ended up as another embarrassing blunder for the Czech government. According to the Czech daily PRAVO, Mr Kavan was so angry at the meeting's cancellation that he was considering his resignation.