New Austrian Chancellor Says He Won't Be First in EU to Move Embassy to Jerusalem

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Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaking in the Austrian parliament as the leader of the far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache looks on.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaking in the Austrian parliament in Vienna as the leader of the far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, looks on, Dec. 20, 2017.Credit: AFP/APA /Ronald Schlager/Austria OUT

Austria's new right-wing chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, told the Israel Hayom daily that his country will not be the first in the European Union to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The remarks follow the announcement earlier this month by U.S. President Donald Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, to be ultimately followed by the relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem.

Last week Austria voted in support of the UN General Assembly resolution that rejected the American stance on Jerusalem. In his interview with Israel Hayom, Kurz said his country is committed to the EU policy that the future status of Jerusalem must be decided through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He acknowledged that there was no united front among EU countries on the issue, but said no EU country has opted to follow America's lead at this point.

The new Austrian government took office this month following two months of negotiations between Kurz, who heads the center-right People’s Party, and Heinz-Christian Strache, whose Freedom Party has Nazi and anti-Semitic roots. The Freedom Party claims to have broken with its past, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the Foreign Ministry portfolio, announced that Israel will boycott Austria's far-right ministers, instructing his ministers to work only with lower-ranking officials.

The Freedom Party has been given control of Austria's Foreign, Interior and Defense ministries, although Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl is not officially a member of the party. In his interview with Israel Hayom , Kurz expressed understanding at the Israeli position regarding contacts with the Freedom Party but said it was his responsibility to dispel concerns in that regard. He said he holds Netanyahu in high regard and has a friendly relationship with him, and will seek to cultivate good relations with Israel and the Jewish community.

Kurz said that his government is the first in Austria to clearly recognize the Jewish character of Israel, and seeks to be Israel's partner and ally. His government has also made it a goal to ease the process for descendants of the victims of the Nazis to acquire Austrian citizenship, he said.

Outlining his government's goals at the Austrian parliament earlier this month, Kurz said: "Anti-Semitism has no place in Austria or Europe. We will fight all forms of anti-Semitism with full determination, both those that still exist and those that have been newly imported."

With reporting by Reuters.

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