úterý 12. února 2019

Czech republic and Israel/Palestine 2017

Sample-text of the chapter "The Middle East and the Maghreb in the Czech Foreign Policy" in the yearbook "Czech Foreign Policy in 2017: Analysis" (edited by Alica Kizeková). I worked on the chapter together with Michaela Lubin and Jan Daniel.

Náhled do kapitoly "The Middle East and the Maghreb in the Czech Foreign" Policy v ročence "Czech Foreign Policy in 2017: Analysis" (ed. Alica Kizeková). Kapitolu jsem psal společně s Michaelou Lubin a Janem Danielem.   

Czech Foreign Policy and Israel and Palestine in 2017.

In 2017, being perceived through the prism of a ‘strategic partnership’ defined in the Concept of the Czech Foreign Policy, the Czech-Israeli relations were the most intense of out of all the Czech relations with states in the Middle East. 

Although under Minister Lubomír Zaorálek, the Czech Republic assumed a slightly more balanced position towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this change did not impact the other policies related to Israel. 

In general, the public discourse has remained in favour of a close co-operation with Israel as well. However, the nature of the Czech–Israeli relations has been gradually changing. Unlike in the second half of the 2000s, when the intensity of the partnership was reflected by many political contacts on both sides, mutual visits, and even joint government meetings, in the past few years the Czech Republic has been significantly more active and Israel has been increasingly passive in the bilateral relations. In the years 2015–2016, at the time of Netanyahu’s third government, Israel actively engaged only in around 10% of their mutual interactions.

Nevertheless, the Czech Republic and Israel maintained a strong co-operation, which was reflected by the significant number of Czech ministers, MPs and special delegations that visited Israel. At the same time, Israel sent to Prague its Minister of Science and Technology and members of the Knesset to increase the co-operation between the parliaments.

Furthermore, on the highest level, there were talks between the Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the two prime ministers also took part in the first "Visegrad 4+Israel" summit in Budapest.

Nevertheless, the lower Israeli activity in the mutual political relations did not prevent the signing of several new agreements which heralded the two countries’ active and growing ties in various sectors. Among other measures, new initiatives were inaugurated in the fields of research and development, military and security co-operation and training (even with the designation of a new Czech defence diplomat in Israel), protection against terrorism, cybersecurity, and cultural co-operation. 

Also, the Czech-Israeli trade co-operation remained strong and growing in 2017 as Israel was the sixth largest importer of Czech products outside of the EU. However, the most publicised bilateral contract with Israel, which was negotiated by the Ministry of Defence and consisted of the Czech Republic acquiring some MADR radars from Israel for CZK 3.5 billion, was repeatedly postponed in 2017.

Ilustrační obrázek: Lidová tvořivost mj. s motivy
česko-izraelského přátelství v Olomouci. 
On the level of the public and the political debate, the issue of the divided Jerusalem came repeatedly to the forefront. The first round of politicisation of this issue on the national level took place in May, when the Parliament strongly criticised UNESCO for a resolution which proclaimed the Temple Mount to be an Islamic holy site. The Czech conservative and liberal right-wing MPs called for a cessation of payments to the agency and urged the government to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Prime Minister Netanyahu, in response, publicly thanked the Czech President Miloš Zeman and the Czech Parliament for their support of Israel. 

The MFA, however, sided with the EU position on the issue and it did not withdraw from UNESCO – a move which was criticised by right-wing MPs. The second round of the debate on Jerusalem took place in December, when the US President Donald Trump declared his intention to relocate the US embassy to the city. President Zeman already called for such a move in 2013 and repeated his position again. On the other side, the MFA, under both Minister Zaorálek and (later) Minister Stropnický, as well as the Prime Minister Andrej Babiš sided with the common EU position and stated that due to the unclear status of Jerusalem, the American relocation would not be replicated by the Czech Republic in the near future. 

But even when the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution calling for Trump’s move to be void, the Czech Republic abstained and did not vote against the move (as opposed to the majority of EU countries). In 2017 the Czech Republic’s relations with the representatives of Palestine were not as strong as, for instance, in 2015, and their planned inter-ministerial meeting did not take place. Nevertheless, the Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad al-Maliki officially visited the Czech Republic and held discussions with Czech representatives.

The entire text of the Yearbook, including the complete chapter on the Middle East, can be found here.

Celý text ročenky včetně kompletní kapitoly o Blízkém východě je možné najít zde

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