Budapest blocks joint EU statement condemning US shift on settlements

Budapest blocks joint EU statement condemning US shift on settlements

Hungarian FM said to instruct his diplomats to block any text on the legal status of settlements; France, Germany, Spain issue their own statements

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Hungarian FM Péter Szijjártó and PM Benjamin Netanyahu open the Hungary's trade mission in central Jerusalem, March 19, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Hungarian FM Péter Szijjártó and PM Benjamin Netanyahu open the Hungary's trade mission in central Jerusalem, March 19, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

An effort to get all 28 European Union member states to issue a joint statement condemning the US decision to no longer consider Israeli settlements as illegal is being blocked by Hungary, according to a diplomatic source with direct knowledge of the matter.

No text has yet been circulated among member states, as Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó made it plain that his country would veto any statement on the settlement’s legality, the source added, speaking to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity.

On Monday, US Secretary Mike Pompeo declared that the current administration was changing its stance on the legality of Israeli settlements. “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law,” he said.

Just a few hours later, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini issued a statement that did not directly refer to Pompeo’s statement but reiterated that the union’s position “remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo makes a statement during a press conference at the US Department of State in Washington, DC, on November 18, 2019. (JIM WATSON/AFP)

Mogherini’s statement further said that the union “calls on Israel to end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power.” Brussels will continue to support “a resumption of a meaningful process towards a negotiated two-state solution, the only realistic and viable way to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of both parties,” her statement concluded.

Szijjártó instructed his diplomats to oppose any statement on the legality of settlements, even if it was formulated in general terms and avoided direct criticism of Washington’s policy change, the source said.

Budapest has been at loggerheads with Brussels over the Middle East peace process several times in recent months. For instance, the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban also blocked a joint EU statement condemning the US administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Joint statements issued in the name of EU member states require unanimity.

In March, Hungary became the first EU member state to open a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, much to the chagrin of Brussels and other member states that cling to the position that international law prohibits opening such missions in the city in the absence of a comprehensive peace deal.

In 2015, Szijjártó also publicly denigrated the EU’s policy to require Israeli products from the settlements to be labeled as such.

Given that a joint statement of all EU states proved impossible, several governments issued their own declarations, announcing that their position on the settlements had not changed.

Germany, for instance, reiterated that it considers the construction of settlements “illegal under international law and an obstacle to the possibility of a peace process.”

The French Foreign Ministry issued a similar statement, adding that Paris “regrets any decision that is likely to encourage continued settlement construction.”

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פורסם על ידי ‏‎France Diplomatie‎‏ ב- יום שלישי, 19 בנובמבר 2019

Spain, too, issued a statement to that effect.

Even Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, felt compelled to restate its opposition to settlements.

“Switzerland’s position towards Israeli settlements is very clear: they are illegal under international law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention. They also constitute a major obstacle to peace and the implementation of a two-State solution,” the government in Bern said in a press release.

“Switzerland regularly calls on the Israeli authorities to cease all settlement activity, in accordance with their obligations as the occupying power.”

The European countries’ statement joins those of nations, such as Russia, Jordan and Turkey, that have already expressed regret over Pompeo’s policy shift.

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