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October 9, 2013

Zeman’s Israel trip not without controversy

Czech president wades into politics, promotes business and plants tree

Czech President Miloš Zeman is in Israel on a three-day visit that began Oct. 7. The trip, which is intended to promote trade, has not been without controversy.

Zeman repeated his opinion that embassies should move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem after Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, during a joint luncheon with Tzipi Livni, Israeli justice minister and main negotiator with the Palestinians, according to the Czech News Agency (ČTK). When this comment angered Palestinian representatives, he clarified that he meant the move should take place only after peace was definitely established in the Middle East. Saeb Erekat, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said Zeman’s proposal undermined the peace process in Israel.

President Miloš Zeman plants a tree with KKL-JNF Chairman Efi Stenzler and the president of KKL-JNF in the Czech Republic, Michal Pacovský.

Zeman also told Livni that he believed in an agreement of both hostile parties to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. “We agreed, of course [that] we would not consider any new Munich Agreement to the detriment of Israel a successful result,” Zeman told Czech journalists. The Munich Agreement was signed in 1938 and gave control of part of Czechoslovakia to Germany; however, Czechoslovakia was not part of the negotiations over its own fate. “I believe that if some common sense is used, a rational agreement will be reached,” Zeman said.

He also thanked his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres for using the term “Czechia” instead of “the Czech Republic” in his English speech. Zeman, too, uses the short English term, arguing that it seemed to him better than the long official name.

Peres delivered his roughly eight-minute speech before Zeman. In it, he praised the two countries’ relations. Peres said Israel owed special thanks to Czechia for having sided with it in difficult times.

Zeman often uses the term Czechia in his English speeches. This was the first time that the term Czechia was also used by his opposite number.

Zeman also held talks about increasing Israeli business investment in the Czech Republic, especially in science and technology. “The Czech Republic needs investment, above all investment with high value added,” Zeman said, according to ČTK. “I believe that the Israeli side could extend its investment activities in the Czech Republic that have already been successfully established in the pharmaceutical industry and in trade in real estate, for example, and the Czech side could in turn participate more and be more successful in various tenders that are opened in Israel,” he said.

Zeman discussed the investment opportunities with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “A substantial part of our talks concerned economic cooperation, above all in science and technology,” Zeman said.

During his visit he also planted a tree at the Grove of Nations in Jerusalem Forest.

Zeman was the 65th head of state to plant an olive tree in this valley below Yad Vashem, according to the Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF).

“The connection between the Czech Republic and the Jewish people is like a tree with deep roots of history and tradition,” Zeman said, according to a press release. “Let’s talk not just about trees but also about the desert. Israel is the only country in the world that is succeeding in the reduction of desertification. As a Jewish, democratic, sovereign state, Israel is surrounded by deserts, not only geographically but also politically, and I wish you continued success in your fight against deserts of all kinds,” he said.

During the trip, Zeman said that if he was invited, he would like to visit the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. “But as there are four and a half years [of my term of office] before me, I am not in a hurry,” Zeman said.

-Compiled from ČTK and other sources

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