Israel seeks to seal good relations with Czech Republic as tension mounts over peace talks

Avigdor Lieberman, Karel Schwarzenberg (right), photo: CTK

Israel’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister Avigdor Lieberman started an official round of talks in Prague on Monday starting with his Czech counterpart Karel Schwarzenberg and later meeting with Prime Minister Petr Necas. While the launch of new Middle East peace talks form the backdrop to the talks, they also dealt with specific Czech-Israeli issues.

Avigdor Lieberman,  photo: CTK
A friend in need is a friend indeed: and for the last 20 years since the re-establishment of diplomatic relations the Czech Republic has stood loyally behind Israel as hopes for peace flourished and then faded. Recently, Czech politicians spoke up for the country when it came under almost universal criticism after Israeli soldiers intercepted an aid flotilla off the coast and shot some of its members.

Prague visitor, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman more than most epitomizes the strains being put on friendly relations. The leader of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party recently case a shadow over the relaunched peace talks with Palestinians by questioning whether any results would be forthcoming from the Palestinian side even after an another generation. The opposition accused him of sabotaging the talks.

Avigdor Lieberman,  Karel Schwarzenberg  (right),  photo: CTK
More recently, Israel has raised doubts whether it will continue its curb on the building of new settlements when the existing moratorium runs out at the end of this month.

The agenda for talks between Mr. Lieberman and his counterpart Karel Schwarzenberg included economic relations, tourism and research and development cooperation. On the last point, the Czech Republic and Israel launched in April a joint programme aimed at fostering cooperation between companies from each country regarding applied research and development. Israel companies have become world leaders in many innovative areas and probably could teach their Czech counterparts a few things here.

Avigdor Lieberman,  Karel Schwarzenberg  (right),  photo: CTK
They also covered the wider issue of relations between the EU and Israel. Here, the Czech Republic has been pushing for closer relations with Israel against the background of increased criticism of the country from within Europe.

And Mr. Lieberman’s visit has been seen as an opportunity for him to update the Czech Foreign Minister about progress so far in the peace talks and what might happen if they do not come to a successful conclusion. Prague would then be in a better position to put across these views within the EU if this was held to be appropriate.

Concretely, one specific result of these talks is that it has been agreed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should make an official visit next year to the Czech Republic.