Israel PM to thank Prague for support in UN vote

AFP , Wednesday 5 Dec 2012

Czech republic, the only EU country to vote against upgrading the status of Palestine at the United Nations, is paid a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over support

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew into Prague on Wednesday to thank the Czech Republic as the only EU country to vote against upgrading the status of Palestine at the United Nations.

Netanyahu is to meet Czech counterpart Petr Necas before heading to Germany amid a mounting diplomatic crisis over new Israeli settlement plans that could torpedo the viability of a Palestinian state.

A staunch US and Israeli ally, the Czech Republic was the only European Union country to back Israel in Thursday's UN vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member state.

Netanyahu's office said he planned to "personally thank" the Czechs for their "courageous" support.

Prague joined just a handful of countries including Israel, the United States and Canada in opposing the Palestinian status bid.

And ahead of his trip to Germany, Netanyahu voiced disappointment that Berlin abstained in the UN vote, a move that raised tensions between the close allies.

"I think Chancellor (Angela) Merkel was of the opinion that this vote would in some way foster peace," Netanyahu said in an interview to be published in Thursday's edition of Die Welt.

"In fact the opposite is the case: after the UN vote, the Palestinian Authority under president (Mahmud) Abbas is making plans to join with the terrorists of Hamas."

"In spite of the good intentions behind the German abstention, I believe that the opposite effect was achieved. It set back the cause of peace," he said.

It "emboldened" the Palestinians to harden their position and to shun talks, he added.

Netanyahu's European swing comes amid mounting international calls for Israel to drop plans to build 3,000 new settler homes in a highly contentious strip of the occupied West Bank near Jerusalem.

Netanyahu announced the move in reaction to the successful Palestinian UN bid and has refused to go back on the decision despite strong international condemnation.

It is Netanyahu's second visit to the Czech Republic this year and the third since April 2011. The ex-communist country joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

France, Britain, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Australia and Egypt have all summoned the Israeli ambassadors to protest the plans, which also drew criticism from Russia and Japan.

Israel's plans have also worried the United States, its traditional ally, which asked Netanyahu reconsider the decision.

But Netanyahu, who is facing stiff opposition at home ahead of a snap election next January, has refused to go back on it.

Netanyahu's talks with Merkel are expected to focus on the settlements.

"Israel is undermining faith in its willingness to negotiate and the geographic space for a future Palestinian state, which must be the basis for a two-state solution, is disappearing," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

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