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Czech Republic to open honorary consulate in Jerusalem, president says

New elected Czech President Milos Zeman won a second five-year term thanks to support from rural and leftist voters
Michal Cizek (AFP)
President Milos Zeman said it is the first step to moving the Czech embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

The Czech Republic will open an honorary consulate in Jerusalem next month as the first step to relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv, the country's president said on Wednesday, earning him praise from Israel's prime minister. 

Israeli businessman Dan Propper, chairman of the food processing company Osem, has agreed to take up the position, Czech President Milos Zeman said in a speech in Prague to mark Israel's 70th anniversary.

"There will be, I hope, three phases of removal of the Czech embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem," Zeman told an audience at Prague Castle that included Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.

"The first step is the honorary consulate which will be opened next month," Zeman said.

He added that the second phase would be the transfer of state bodies to promote investment, trade and tourism will be relocated to the holy city.

Zeman, a pro-Russian politician re-elected earlier this year, did not put a timeline on the opening of the embassy. In March, local media reported that the government is less keen on defying the EU and relocating the mission.

Earlier on Wednesday, Haaretz newspaper reported that the opening of an honorary consulate was a compromise suggested by the Czech government instead of opening a fully-fledged embassy in the city.

THOMAS COEX (AFP/File)

An honorary consul is typically a ceremonial figurehead who does not involve themselves in day-to-day diplomacy.

Several European countries already have fully-fledged consulates in West Jerusalem.

The embassy moves are bitterly opposed by Palestinian leaders, who claim the eastern part of the city for the capital of their hoped-for future state.

The US is expected to be the first country to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 16, with Guatemala, Honduras and Romania hot on their heels.

In his short remarks, Zeman said he had first proposed the idea four years ago.

Late on Wednesday night Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hoped the "important" decision will "be implemented quickly."

"I look forward to welcoming President Zeman here in Israel with the greatest respect that he deserves," he wrote on Facebook. 

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was also quick to congratulate the president, noting while on a visit to Washington DC that Trump's decision last year has opened the door for other countries to follow suit. 

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze'ev Elkin said in a statement that the president's announcement and those of other countries are "an important step in the struggle for the status of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state throughout the generations."

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