Romanian PM to visit Israel as embassy row brews

Bucharest (AFP) –


Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila is due to start a two-day visit to Israel Wednesday, as a political row brews at home over the possible transfer of Romania's embassy to Jerusalem.

Dancila, from the leftwing Social Democrats (PSD), will have lunch with her Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu before visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, according to Israeli officials.

On Thursday she is due to visit the Western Wall and meet President Reuven Rivlin.

The visit comes days after PSD party chief Liviu Dragnea kicked off a political row in Romania by announcing the government's "decision" to move the country's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The move would follow in the footsteps of US President Donald Trump, who took the controversial decision in December of recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

According to Romanian media, Netanyahu has invited Dragnea to visit Israel "towards the end of the month" and welcomed his stance on the embassy question.

However, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who is from the centre-right and has frequently clashed with the government, protested that he had not been informed and emphasised that any such move could only happen after Israel and the Palestinians had agreed the status of Jerusalem amongst themselves.

Caught in the middle of the argument between the two men, Dancila has sought to reassure that her government was trying simply to create a "platform for discussions" on the possible transfer of the embassy.

Dragnea was not able to take up the post of prime minister after the party won polls in 2016 due to a conviction for electoral fraud. But he is still seen as having a key role in government affairs.

Dragnea "is looking for recognition on an international level and to present himself as a privileged interlocutor with Israel and the US within Romania," political analyst Radu Magdin told AFP.

Dragnea also hopes that "the US will be less critical of the government's reforms" of the judiciary, according to Magdin.

The EU has criticised the government's plans and opponents say they will weaken judicial independence.

Romania was the only country in the former communist bloc to maintain relations with Israel after the Six Day War in 1967.

Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu also maintained close ties to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation under Yasser Arafat.