Israel PM to thank Prague for 'courageous' support in UN vote

5th December 2012, Comments 0 comments

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday arrived in the Czech Republic to thank Prague for its "courageous" support in the UN vote that resulted in the Palestinians securing a status upgrade.

Netanyahu would meet Czech counterpart Petr Necas before heading to Germany amid a mounting crisis over his country's 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 last Thursday's vote.

Netanyahu's office said he planned to "personally thank" the Czechs for their "courageous" support at the UN during the visit, before heading to Germany later in the day.

Prague joined Israel, the United States and Canada in opposing the Palestinian status bid. The UN General Assembly approved non-member observer status for Palestine by an overwhelming vote of 138 against nine, with 41 abstentions.

The visit comes amid mounting international calls for Israel to drop plans to build 3,000 new settler homes in a highly contentious strip of the Palestinian-controlled 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 will be Netanyahu's second visit to the Czech Republic this year and third since April 2011. The ex-communist country joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

Berlin abstained from voting last week despite pleas by Israel. It then slammed the Jewish state over the plan to build the settler homes in east Jerusalem, a move the Palestinians vehemently oppose.

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 German Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected to focus on the premier's controversial proposed 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 of the move.

Tensions between Israel and Germany had already flared last week when Berlin opted to abstain in the UN vote. Israel reportedly asked Berlin to vote "no".

Media reports had said this week's talks in Berlin could even be called off due to the friction.

© 2012 AFP

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