Aus­tria leader visit ends in stale­mate


AUS­TRIAN CHAN­CEL­LOR Se­bas­tian Kurz ar­rived in Is­rael on Sunday in the hope of gain­ing a stamp of le­git­i­macy for the far-right min­is­ters in his gov­ern­ment.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s ob­jec­tive, mean­while, was to con­vince a first Eu­ro­pean Union mem­ber state to move its em­bassy from Jerusalem.

But when the two lead­ers emerged for a press con­fer­ence on Monday, nei­ther is­sue was men­tioned.

Is­raeli and Aus­trian diplo­mats alike later briefed that the chances of ei­ther leader get­ting what they wanted were slim.

The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment an­nounced in De­cem­ber that it would not en­gage with min­is­ters from the far-right Free­dom Party, who are part­ners in Mr Kurz’s gov­ern­ment.

There were ru­mours that Mr Ne­tanyahu may have been will­ing to shift that pol­icy if the Aus­tri­ans were pre­pared to re­lo­cate their em­bassy, but of­fi­cials in Vi­enna made clear there is lit­tle prospect of that hap­pen­ing.

Aus­tria as­sumes the ro­tat­ing pres­i­dency of the Eu­ro­pean Coun­cil next month and is there­fore un­likely to di­verge from EU pol­icy on Jerusalem, at least for the re­main­der of this year.

It leaves Mr Ne­tanyahu no closer to his goal of break­ing the com­mon Eu­ro­pean pol­icy on not recog­nis­ing Jerusalem’s sta­tus as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal city.

But there have been a se­ries of other Aus­trian ges­tures to­wards Is­rael.

A com­mit­ment to Is­rael’s se­cu­rity was added to the Aus­trian coali­tion’s for­mal guide­lines by Mr Kurz, and he has promised to high­light Is­rael’s con­cerns dur­ing his EU pres­i­dency.

He has solved “data-pro­tec­tion” is­sues that hin­dered the ac­cess of re­searchers from Is­rael’s Holo­caust au­thor­ity Yad Vashem to Aus­trian ar­chives.

Mr Kurz also took the rare step — for a Eu­ro­pean leader — of vis­it­ing the Western Wall, al­beit in a “pri­vate ca­pac­ity”, but it was sig­nif­i­cant enough for Mr Ne­tanyahu to sin­gle it out in his re­marks as proof of the Chan­cel­lor be­ing a “true friend” of Is­rael.

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