In radical foreign policy shift, Czech foreign minister accuses Israel of torpedoing Middle East peace talks

Министр иностранных дел Чешской Республики Любомир Заоралек и премьер-министр Израиля Биньямин Нетаньяху (Фото: ЧТК)

On a three-day visit to Israel and the Gaza Strip, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek voiced strong criticism of Israel’s policy in the region, accusing the country of torpedoing the Middle East peace process. The stand is seen as radical shift in the Czech Republic’s traditionally pro-Israeli foreign policy line.

Foreign Minister Zaorálek’s three-day visit to Palestine and Israel started in the Gaza Strip, the first visit by a Czech top official in 15 years, and he expressed shock at the devastation wrought by the bombardment and partial occupation of the territory by Israeli forces in 2014. The minister also accused Israel of torpedoing the peace process by building Jewish settlements on land earmarked for the Palestinians, which he said clearly indicated that Israel was not prepared to enable Palestinians to build an independent state. He said unilateral steps such as this undermined the peace process and only strengthened the atmosphere of hatred.

“The ongoing Israeli settlements construction behind the 1967 line is something that is perceived in the European Union as an example of such unilateral steps.”

The Czech foreign minister voiced his concerns during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that unless it showed goodwill in this matter Israel would lose the support of a significant part of the international community. He said the prevailing opinion in the EU was that Israel was responsible for the lack of progress in talks.

Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected the notion that it was Israel which was undermining the Middle East peace talks and criticized the Palestinian side for setting unacceptable conditions for them.

“They refuse to negotiate and then try to get boycotts on Israel for there not being negotiations –which they refuse to enter into. Catch 22.”

Gaza,  photo: CTK
Foreign Minister Zaorálek said he could not see any viable alternative to peace negotiations and offered to host the peace talks in Prague if both sides showed goodwill and agreed on them. Palestinians, for their part, he said, must clearly stand up against violent attacks on civilians in Israel and must resolve the division of their political leadership on the West Bank of the Jordan.

The Czech foreign minister’s statements aroused comment in Prague where analysts noted that after 25 years the Czech government had turned the wheel on its foreign policy in the Middle East towards a more balanced approach towards Palestine and Israel. The new line pursued by the Czech foreign minister also brings the Czech foreign policy stance on the problem closer to that of the European Union.