Netanyahu Struggles to Get European Nations to Follow Trump and Relocate Embassies to Jerusalem

Domestic pressures preventing countries from bucking EU and UNSC policy and helping Israeli PM fulfill his goal of a 'wave' of embassy moves

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a proclamation next to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, left, after making a statement on Jerusalem in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, .
Bloomberg

Under instructions from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has been pressuring Romania and the Czech Republic over the past few months to buck European Union and UN Security Council policy and move their embassies to Jerusalem – without regard to the peace process with the Palestinians – as the United States has done.

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But domestic pressures in those countries are preventing this step. Since the U.S. declaration, Netanyahu has marked the creation of a “wave” of embassies moving to the capital as a central aim of Israel’s foreign service. The prime minister believes that such a wave will break the international status quo that keeps Jerusalem as a bargaining chip for advancing the two-state solution along the 1967 lines.

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At a reception for foreign diplomats on Thursday to mark Israel’s 70th Independence Day, Netanyahu told the envoys that Israel would help, economically and bureaucratically, the first 10 countries that moved their embassies to Jerusalem. “There are two things you can do to help Israel celebrate this great Independence Day,” he said. “The first thing is – speak out against Iran. Iran is the enemy of us all – of Israel, the Arab world, of civilization. ... The second thing you can do to advance peace is to move your embassy here,” he said. “I am happy to say there are at least half a dozen countries seriously talking with us about relocating their embassies to Jerusalem. So please, there’s s simple principle, you’re familiar with it – ‘first come, first served.’ I’ve decided that the first 10 embassies to come here will get preferential treatment. We’ll help you. All of you should do that.”

So far, only the United States and Guatemala have announced clear intentions to actually move their embassies to Jerusalem. In Honduras, the Congress voted to support moving its embassy, but the decision is not binding.

The president of Romania posted a statement on Friday expressing opposition to the move being advanced by the Romanian government to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. President Klaus Iohannis said the Romanian prime minister had not consulted him on the decision, which will be presented for approval by government ministers, adding that such a move could have bad repercussions. Similar to the position of the UN Security Council, Iohannis said the embassy could only be moved at the end of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and called on his government to consider the move’s implications before making a final decision. Romania’s president has limited powers, but they include opening and closing diplomatic missions around the world. Whether the president also can move missions from one city to another in the same country, or whether the decision is up to the government ministers, is being discussed in Romania.

Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dncil submitted a draft resolution Saturday to her cabinet whereby the Romanian government would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. At the same time, the speaker of the Romanian parliament told Romanian media that the government intends to move the embassy. The Israeli Foreign Ministry is waiting for official word on the matter from Bucharest.

The draft resolution was passed after Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) visited Romania last week, where she met Romania’s Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu. Hotovely told him: “There will be a historic window of opportunity following the relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem. It is time to choose to stand on the right side of history and be one of the pioneering countries to transfer their embassy to our capital, Jerusalem.” The Romanian foreign minister replied that he would seriously consider the matter.

Hotovely has been working energetically over the past few months to implement Netanyahu’s policy. She is slated to visit the Czech Republic soon. Romania and the Czech Republic belong to the European Union, whose official policy opposes unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and supports the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of two states, Israel and Palestine, along the 1967 lines.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babi said this week that his government will not depart from UN and EU policy regarding the move of embassies to Jerusalem, and that a move of the Czech cultural center from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is under consideration instead. According to Babis, the opening of an honorary consulate in Jerusalem is also under consideration, although there already is one there.

In December 2017, Czech President Milo Zeman welcomed the unilateral decision by the U.S. to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying he was “truly happy” and that “four years ago I visited Israel and said I would consider relocating our embassy. Sooner or later we will join the U.S. Every nation has the right to decide where its capital is.”

However, the Czech Foreign Ministry announced at the same time that the Czech Republic only recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that the embassy would move “in accordance with negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinians. During the previous May, the Czech parliament voted to recognize Jerusalem within the 1967 borders as Israel’s capital.