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Netanyahu hosts Czech, Hungarian leaders for trilateral talks on vaccine cooperation

Also during visit, Czech PM opens diplomatic office in Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (L) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (Photo: Haim Zach/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Jerusalem to discuss allowing reciprocal travel with mutually recognized green vaccine passports for vaccinated Hungarian, Czech and Israeli citizens.

The talks – which focused mainly on COVID-19 vaccine cooperation in research, development and corona drug production – come a week after Netanyahu hosted a similar trilateral vaccine-focused summit with the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. The Czech Republic and Hungary are among Israel’s closest European allies. 

Netanyahu welcomed his Czech and Hungarian guests and stressed the importance of international cooperation. 

“We are better together,” Netanyahu said. 

Orban expressed his admiration for Israel’s rapid vaccination program. 

“Israel is the world champion in fighting against [the] pandemic… We try to understand during the visit how to follow you,” said the Hungarian prime minister. 

The Czech prime minister thanked the Jewish state for sharing its experience and knowledge from combating the coronavirus. In addition, Babiš also expressed his solidarity with Israel by condemning the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to launch a controversial probe into alleged Israeli war crimes in the disputed territories. The Czech leader also stressed that the ICC lacks jurisdiction to conduct such an investigation against Israel. 

COVID-19 vaccine cooperation was not the only important issue on the agenda. The Czech prime minister inaugurated a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem on Thursday, implicitly recognizing the city as Israel’s de facto capital.

It also constituted a diplomatic upgrade of the cultural and trade center that Prague opened in Jerusalem two years ago. Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi attended the opening of the Czech diplomatic office. The Czech Republic thereby became the second European Union state after Hungary to open a diplomatic mission in Israel’s capital. 

Hungary’s and the Czech Republic’s diplomatic moves in Jerusalem differ from the European Union’s refusal to recognize Israel’s claims to any part of Jerusalem. Unlike the U.S. embassy, which former President Donald Trump moved to Jerusalem in 2018, virtually all European countries continue to maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. 

“We, the Czech Republic, are opening here in Jerusalem on Washington Street our diplomatic representation,” Babiš said. 

However, the Czech leader explained that the new Jerusalem office would operate as a branch of the Czech embassy in Tel Aviv.  

"We will have a full fledged diplomatic mission here in Jerusalem. It will deal with a lot, ranging from politics and economic cooperation to consular agenda and other topics. It will have its permanent staff and work under the lead of our embassy in Tel Aviv,” said Babiš. 

The Israeli foreign minister thanked the Czech Republic for opening its diplomatic mission in Jerusalem. 

"I want to thank the entire Czech government and the prime minister for leading the change in Europe toward the city of Jerusalem as a whole and the connection to the State of Israel,” said Ashkenazi. 

Israeli Public Security Minister Amir Ohana also thanked the Czech Republic on Netanyahu's behalf. 

“We consider this event a highly significant step, and a gesture by the Czech Republic that will further strengthen Czech-Israeli relations,” Ohana said.  

Foreign Minister Ashkenazi also praised the Czech Republic’s active role in fighting anti-Semitism in the international arena. While Israel’s close ties with Hungary are relatively recent, the friendship between Israel and the Czechs predate the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. At the time when the outgunned and outmanned embryonic Jewish state was fighting for its existence against the invading Arab militaries, Czechoslovakia provided crucial arms that helped Israel win its War of Independence. 

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