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.