The Czech Republic plans to boost its mission in Jerusalem without moving its embassy, Prague announced on Wednesday.
The Czech Foreign Ministry said the new office would be part of “efforts to strengthen Czech-Israeli relations further,” but emphasized that “this is not about opening a new embassy.”
The diplomatic office is slated to be opened in the first half of 2021, replacing the Czech honorary consulate in Jerusalem. It will be a branch of its embassy in Tel Aviv, with one of the diplomats of the embassy working from the office, and will allow Czech citizens to apply for travel documents in Jerusalem. The new office will be a separate entity from the existing Czech House in Jerusalem, which promotes Czech culture and trade and has an office where the ambassador can hold meetings in the capital.
The Czech statement clarified that “the establishment of this office has nothing to do with the ongoing peace process in the Middle East, does not anticipate its results or change the long-term Czech position in this process.”
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke with his Czech counterpart Tomáš Petříček and thanked him for the decision, which Ashkenazi said “is a symbol of the great friendship between the Czech Republic and Israel and the strategic partnership between the countries.”
“This decision is a clear message to the nations of the world: Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish People and the State of Israel and will remain our capital forever,” Ashkenazi added.
The only countries with embassies in Jerusalem are the US and Guatemala. In recent months, Kosovo, Serbia, the Dominican Republic, and Malawi have said they would follow.
The Czech decision came almost two months after the country’s president, prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister, interior minister, and parliament speaker released a joint statement committing to “further strengthening our representation in Jerusalem.”
Czech President Miloš Zeman has sought over two years to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem. Still, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis has said the country would not break from the EU position, opposing such embassy moves and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Zeman’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček said in October: “For the President of the Czech Republic, moving the embassy to Jerusalem is the message of his heart. Mr. President is patient, and he is gradually moving towards realizing the message of his heart!”