Czech PM to ‘Post’: We’ll support Israel in EU (JERUSALEM POST) By CNAAN LIPHSHIZ, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT 05/18/12)
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PRAGUE – Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas expressed “a special
feeling” for Israel as he met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
in Prague on Thursday.
Netanyahu arrived in the Czech Republic earlier in the day
accompanied by seven cabinet ministers, including Foreign Minister
“We’ve got a full understanding of Israel’s situation as a small,
democratic country in a very dangerous region with very dangerous
neighbors,” Necas told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview
before the meeting.
He said the Czech Republic would like to continue to be a strong
supporter of Israel within the European Union. “We are concerned
about the Iranian missile and nuclear programs,” he said.
Israel’s situation was reminiscent of Czechoslovakia’s in the 1930s,
Necas said. In 1939, Nazi Germany invaded the country, citing the
need to defend its German-speaking minority.
“We’ve got a special feeling for Israel’s situation – that of a small
nation surrounded by enemies. We remember our situation in the 1930s,
when the small democratic Czechoslovakia had neighbors that wanted to
destroy it or take part of our territory.”
Necas, the leader of the conservative Civic Democratic Party, spoke
to the Post on Wednesday evening at a dinner with some 40 community
leaders attending the executive meeting of the European Jewish
Netanyahu met with Necas in talks designed to strengthen relations
between Israel and the Czech Republic – one of Israel’s closest
allies within the EU.
The Israeli and Czech delegations signed a joint declaration
expressing “concern at Iran’s efforts to enrich uranium for military
purposes, even as it threatens to destroy Israel.”
At a joint press conference with Netanyahu, the Czech prime minister
said his government “fundamentally rejects delegitimization and any
boycott of the State of Israel. We clearly support Israel’s right to
defense against terrorist attacks.”
Netanyahu said Jerusalem “deeply appreciated” Prague’s friendship.
“Nowhere else in Europe are Israeli calls so well understood,” he
Necas expressed opposition to a unilateral Palestinian declaration of
statehood, saying “The long-term Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be
solved only through direct negotiations of the two parties. The Czech
Republic does not support unilateral steps that cannot contribute to
the peace process in the Middle East.”
Before the press conference, the visiting Israeli ministers met their
Czech counterparts in a government-to-government discussion, which
included the signing of agreements to increase security cooperation
and joint projects in education, infrastructure and culture.
Necas told the Post he would broach the Iranian issue in his next
meeting with the new French president, François Hollande, “and other
European heads of state during the next collective meeting, and at
the next NATO summit in Chicago.”
Israeli diplomatic officials said that Laurent Fabius, whom Hollande
just appointed as foreign minister, visited Israel immediately before
the recent French elections and met with Netanyahu. Fabius is
considered friendly to Israel, and officials described his meeting
with Netanyahu as “good.”
Necas said at the press conference that “as a traditional supporter
of Israel, the Czech Republic needs to be among the European
countries that fully realize” the Iranian danger.
A related concern was for the safety of European Jewish communities
in case of a conflict between Iran and Israel. Necas said he had been
briefed on the issue during a conversation on Wednesday with Moshe
Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress.
“The Czech Republic has become much more influential within the EU
following the financial crisis,” said Arie Zuckerman, the secretary-
general of the European Jewish Fund.
“While the strongest economies remain France, Germany and the UK,
countries like Spain and Italy lost considerable clout to countries
that are faring better – like the Czech Republic, Poland, Holland and
Denmark,” he said.
“This shift in the balance of power, along with the Czech Republic’s
favorable attitude toward Israel, is generating greater interest on
the part of Jewish leaders and the Israeli government in deepening
relations,” Zuckerman added.
In November, Czech cabinet members visited Israel for the first
government-to-government talk. In addition to the Czech Republic,
Israel holds joint cabinet meetings with Germany, Poland and the
Tomas Kraus, director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the
Czech Republic, told the Post that the Czech government had “an
interest in learning from Israel’s experience as a start-up nation,
an [information technologies] power and a partner for lucrative
investments. Israel is seen and admired as a success story.”
He added that some of the Czech Republic´s leading firms are
represented in the Israel-Czech Chamber of Commerce, “but the primary
reason for the strong relations is a deep emotional bond.”
The only reservations to deepening relations with Israel come from
the Czech Social Democratic party, he said, “where some politicians
are more influenced by Brussels.” Several Social Democrat members of
the European Parliament recently spoke about the need “for a more
balanced policy on Israel,” but this, Kraus noted, “is a different
vocabulary than the one used in Britain, France and Belgium.”
Whereas Green Parties across Europe are adopting a highly critical
view of Israel, “the Czech Green Party is the greatest supporter of
Israel and the Jewish community in this country,” Kraus said.
He traced the kinship between the two nations back to the
1960s, “when both countries experienced formative moments: Israel in
the Six Day War and Czechoslovakia in the Prague Spring.”
An op-ed about Netanyahu’s visit published in the influential daily
Lidové Noviny on Thursday was less positive. Referring to the price
the Czech Republic has had to pay for its Euro-skeptic politics,
journalist Zbynek Petrácek wrote: “Both the Czech Republic and Israel
have gained the reputation as unpredictable partners who have ended
up in isolation.” (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 05/18/12)
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