Austrian President Opposes Jerusalem Embassy Move in Ramallah Visit

Alexander Van der Bellen said following a meeting with Palestinian President Abbas he supports the two-state solution and UNRWA's activity

Austrian President Alexander Van Der Bellen speaks during a press conference following his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, February 5, 2019.
Nasser Nasser/AP

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said on Tuesday that he opposes moving foreign embassies in Israel to Jerusalem, stressing this stance has been agreed upon by European Union member states.

In a press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas following a joint meeting in Ramallah, Van der Bellen said he supports the two-state solution and underlined the importance of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, after the United States announced in August that it was halting aid to UNRWA.

Some Austrian politicians, as well as leading Czech, Romanian and Hungarian figures, have voiced support for moving their respective embassies to Jerusalem, but no European nation followed through with such a move. The United States, Guatemala and Paraguay did do so last year, but the latter moved its embassy back to Tel Aviv in September.

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The Austrian president visited the West Bank following a series of meetings in Israel earlier this week. He met President Reuven Rivlin on Monday, and said Austria shares responsibility for the Holocaust and aims for Jews to be able to live safely everywhere.

In a Tuesday meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they discussed Iran, on which Austria is seen more hawkish than other EU states. Netanyahu thanked Van der Bellen for a declaration on the fight against anti-Semitism adopted by the EU in December, under Austria's presidency of the organization.

The two leaders also signed a memorandum of understanding on further cooperation in the fields of science, culture and education, as well as a joint declaration calling for future international cooperation on aid to developing nations.

Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl was not invited to join the presidential delegation, Israel clarified ahead of the event, despite Austria's attempts to get Jerusalem to stop boycotting the politician, who belongs to the far-right Freedom Party.

Israel has boycotted her party for years because of its neo-Nazi roots and anti-Semitism allegations by Austria's Jewish community against party members. The Netanyahu government, however, chose not to shun the Austrian government entirely, but just the party and its ministers.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, appointed in October 2017, has been working hard to legitimize his coalition government and strengthen ties with the Israeli government.

Her party affiliation aside, Kneissl is also personally boycotted after she compared between Zionism and Nazism in her book. She also criticized the Israeli army and Netanyahu himself.

However, diplomatic sources suggest that due to the significance of her role to relations between the two countries and the fact that she isn't registered as a Freedom party member, her boycott could be lifted in the future as a compromise between Vienna and Jerusalem.