Czech Republic Should Fight Against Israeli Annexation of West Bank

Israel is set to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank, a plan which sparked disagreement between Czech politicians. While the Czech Republic has a long record of balancing anti-Israeli sentiment in the EU, now is the time it should break with this pattern.

Plans for Israel (with the backing the United States) to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank and other Palestinian territories has caused a scuffle between the Czech diplomats and President Milos Zeman. The plan has been criticized as a possible end to the two-state solution by extending Israeli law to many places where Palestinians currently live, thus making it hard for concessions in future peace negotiations. Many believe the plan could even lead to an apartheid system.

While the Czech Republic has long been one of Israel’s strongest allies in the European Union, the annexation plan calls into question the EU member’s dedication to humanitarian law and democracy. Czech-Israeli relations were forged since the Jewish state’s birth, and have continued to thrive since 1989 even in times of controversy. However, now more than ever it is time for the Czech Republic to break with tradition and oppose a plan that would deeply tarnish the legitimacy of the one democracy in the Middle East.

 

Czech Republic and Israel’s special relationship

The Czech Republic’s close relationship with Israel is deeply rooted in its history and understanding of Israel’s position on security. Czech empathy for Israel’s suspicion of ceding territory to achieve peace resonates with its own betrayal in the 1938 Munich Agreement, when Western powers handed Czechoslovakia over to the Nazi regime to stop war. In addition to this, the Czech Republic doesn’t have special relationships with any Arab countries in the Middle East or a large Muslim population that would complicate its affiliation with Israel. Instead of regarding Israel’s actions as aggressive or obstinate, Czechs identify with the country’s readiness to use force when protecting its sovereignty.

Due to these reasons, the Czech Republic has often diplomatically supported Israel, dating back to its very conception, on controversial stances while the rest of the EU stood in opposition. Czechoslovakia recognized Israel’s statehood in 1948, and provided arms and military training both before and after Israel’s independence despite an international embargo. During the 2008-2009 Gaza War, Israelis launched a 22-day military assault on the Gaza Strip known as Operation Cast Lead. While most of the EU opposed Israel’s actions, the Czech Republic, which reigned as the president of the EU Council at the time, stated that Israel’s actions were defensive. In 2006, Czech stood apart from the rest of the EU which rebuked Israel’s offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Again in 2012, the Czech Republic was the only European state to vote against Palestine’s admittance as a non-member state to the UN General Assembly. The list goes on and on.

 

"The Czech Republic has often diplomatically supported Israel, dating back to its very conception, on controversial stances while the rest of the EU stood in opposition." 

 

This relationship also extends beyond diplomacy and into the economic sector as well. In 2015, Israel was the Czech Republic’s sixth largest export market and trade between the two nations continues to be strong. Czechs benefit from Israeli investment and the influence of high-tech industry, while the Czech Republic provides Israel a good entry point into the EU market. Prague also hosts many bilateral forums aimed at boosting cooperation in the fields of science, research, culture, security and more.

This long history of cooperation and support is precisely why the Czech Republic can afford to push back on Israel’s West Bank annexation. The Czech Republic has a decades-long record of providing a balance to anti-Israeli sentiment prevalent in other Western European countries, but the plan to incorporate the West Bank territory is indicative of an act-first-think-later strategy that could ultimately end the possibility of a two-state solution in the region. This ironically places Israel in the shoes of the occupying force, something Czechs should be all too familiar with when looking back at 1968 when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague.

 

Fighting for democracy

For many Czechs, Israel represents a symbol of democratic stability in a region surrounded by conflict. However, the unilateral annexation is a direct challenge to that democratic image. The truth is Israeli policies have been creeping toward an apartheid system and lead to numerous human rights violations in the process. While some Israeli sources claim that Palestinians in the affected areas of the Jordan Valley would be given equal rights, the de-facto control of this land over the years has lead to discrimination that has been largely unchallenged by the West. These instances include when Israel claimed sovereignty over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in the 1980s, the separation wall constructed in the early 2000s and the nation-state law enacted in 2018 that claimed the right to self determination in Israel was exclusive to the Jewish people. 

 

“The unilateral annexation is a direct challenge to the Israeli democratic image.”

 

Furthermore, the continued settlement of Palestinian territory has resulted in oppression that is highly contingent on where Palestinians live. While some have residency status in East Jerusalem or even have citizenship in other parts of the country, many live under Israeli occupation and are under threat in Gaza. In 2018, the UN Human Rights Council found that Israeli forces violated international humanitarian law when it used live rounds against Palestinian protesters. Many experts and Palestinian advocates worry that the annexation would make occupation permanent and lead to more home demolitions and violence from settlers. These abuses demonstrate how Israel’s escalating policies go beyond protecting its own sovereignty and it’s time for the Czech Republic to change its enabling attitude toward their ally. 

Czechs have proven time and time again that they are willing to balance anti-Israel sentiment in the EU, and so voicing dissent over the West Bank annexation could send a powerful message to their ally. Yes, the economic and trade relations between the two countries run deep and might be temporarily disturbed due to this criticism, but that doesn’t mean Czechs should sit idly by as Israel annexes territory that could essentially put a nail in the coffin of a two-state solution that would solidify an apartheid state.

 

"Many experts and Palestinian advocates worry that the annexation would make occupation permanent and lead to more home demolitions and violence from settlers." 

 

Furthermore, democracy in the EU and abroad appears to be in a state of crisis. Some of the Czech Republic’s neighbors have been backsliding on democratic values over the years, and the recent coronavirus pandemic has caused many states to take more extreme measures that curtail civil liberties. While there is a clear desire to fight for the one real democracy in the Middle East, with the death of a two-state solution, the question remains: How democratic will it be if the annexation renders significant portions of the population into second class citizens?

About author: Nicole Ely

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