Eastern EU states, Israel to meet as Netanyahu seeks re-election

AFP , Thursday 7 Feb 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: AFP)

Leaders of four eastern European states will meet with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem later this month, the Czech and Slovak governments said on Thursday, as the Israeli prime minister is to bid for re-election in April.

Israel's liberal daily Haaretz has called the February 18-19 meeting one of "Netanyahu's efforts to shake up the EU consensus on issues related to the Palestinians and Iran."

The summit will be the first time that the Visegrad Group, comprising the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, will meet in the Middle East.

The Visegrad countries and Israel held their last annual summit in July 2017 in Budapest.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis will attend, spokeswoman Vanesa Sandova told AFP on Thursday, without going into detail.

Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pelligrini will also attend, according to spokeswoman Patricia Macikova, who also declined to elaborate when contacted by AFP on Thursday.

Spokespersons were unable to immediately confirm whether Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki or his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban would also take part.

The latter hosted Netanyahu at a Visegrad Group summit in Budapest in 2017.

The group's relations with Israel are generally good, mirroring favourable ties with the pro-Israeli United States.

Following Washington's lead, Czech President Milos Zeman has pushed for his country's embassy to be transferred from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, although the move has not won government approval.

The United States moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14, 2018, a development that was opposed by the European Union.

Israel's relations with Poland soured for several months last year when Warsaw passed a so-called Holocaust law that made it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in Nazi German crimes.

After protests from Israel and the United States, Poland amended the law to remove the possibility of fines or a prison sentence.

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