The Czech Republic and the Arab World
A vote in the United Nations General Assembly is often the consequence of a complicated assessment of national interests and a response to international pressures, rather than of actual convictions on a particular issue. The Czech Republic was the only country in the European Union to vote against the resolution that Palestine be granted the status of a non-member observer state at the United Nations on November 29, 2012. Fourteen members of the EU, including France, voted for the resolution, and 12, including Germany, abstained.
The Czech vote at the UNGA reflects both a fresh assessment of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, as well as a bond based on historical and personal factors. The Czech Republic does support the creation of a Palestinian state in a two state solution, but insists that it can only be established as a result of an Israeli-Palestinian negotiated process, as agreed to by both the Palestinians and the Israelis -- not only in both UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, and 1850, but also in countless bilateral agreements -- in particular the Oslo II agreements of September 28, 1995, Article 31, that "neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the final status negotiations. The Czech Republic seems to have regarded the Palestinian request to attain non-member status not only as a unilateral act that is detrimental to the peace process, but as a totally illegal one under the UN's own system of jurisprudence.
For Czechs, the memory of their betrayal by the appeasement policy of the Western powers in the 1930s remains potent. At the Munich Conference on September 30, 1938, Britain and France, wishing to avoid confrontation with Germany, allowed Adolf Hitler to control the Czech Sudetenland. The following year, Nazi Germany took control over the whole country. As a result of this Western failure to control Nazi aggression, "appeasement" has become a synonym for weakness and cowardice.
Although the vote on the November 2102 UNGA Resolution in opposition to the Palestinian position cannot of course be regarded as an exact parallel with the Western abandonment of Czechoslovakia in 1938, a similar situation exists: Czechoslovakia was the only democratic country on Central Europe in the 1930's, as Israel is the only democratic country in the Middle East today. By its vote in the UNGA, the Czechs have made clear that the appalling Western mistake in 1938 -- of trying to appease Hitler by giving him the Sudetenland -- must not be repeated by giving Israel to the Arabs.
This Czech emphasis on the necessity of direct negotiations between the Middle East parties may be an echo of the successful negotiations in 1993, when the federal state of Czechoslovakia was divided between the contending parties, and the two separate states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia were established.
Czech attitudes towards Israel have varied over the years. Czechoslovakia was one of the 33 countries voting for the UNGA November 1947 Resolution which led to the establishment of the State of Israel, and on May 18, 1948, Czechoslovakia recognized the Israel, four days after its creation. It was also a main supplier to Israel of military aircraft and weapons in July of 1948, after other countries had imposed a boycott on the new state. Czechoslovakia even trained some of Israel's pilots who belonged to the Haganah, the Israeli defense organization that preceded the Israel Defense Forces before Israel's independence. The formal diplomatic relationship, broken by the Communist regime after the Six Day War of 1967, was restored with the Velvet Revolution of 1989, which ended the Communists' rule.
Since then, the Czech Republic has constantly fathomed the problems Israel faces. It agreed in 2006 that Israel had a right to defend itself against the attacks from Lebanon by Hezbollah; and in 2008-9 refused to condemn Israel's response to rocket attacks from Gaza by Hamas, which the Czechs have labeled a terrorist organization. Although the Czechs acknowledged that the conditional opening of crossings of goods and people into Gaza -- to prevent the smuggling of weapons and materiel into Gaza -- was a problem, they admitted that it was not the main problem. More important was that Gaza was ruled by a terrorist organization.
The Czech Republic also supported Israel's legal military operation in May 2010 in the Mediterranean Sea to prevent six ships, a flotilla sailing from Turkey, from breaking a legal blockade so that weapons would not be smuggled into Gaza via a sea-route.
In January 2009, when the Czech Republic served as president of the European Council of the European Union, it proposed that EU relations with Israel be upgraded. The proposal was not approved.
Historical and personal factors also played a role in the Czech attitude to Jews and to the State of Israel. The legendary hero Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the founder and first President of the State of Czechoslovakia in 1918, was a supporter of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and is remembered by a square in Tel Aviv named after him, and by a kibbutz near Haifa. In 1927, he was the first head of state to visit the Jewish village in the area of that was then the British Mandate. He spoke out against superstitious, "witch trial" claims of the Hilsner Affair, a case in Bohemia in 1899, in which a young Jewish boy was libelously accused of killing a Christian girl for her blood. Later, Vaclav Havel, as President, opposed the sale of weapons to Syria because of its hostility to Israel, and constantly spoke out against anti-Semitism.
The Czechs have apparently understood the realities of Middle East politics.
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