EU reiterates opposition to diplomatic missions in Jerusalem
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EU reiterates opposition to diplomatic missions in Jerusalem

Day after Hungary opens trade office that is said to be a branch of country’s embassy, union says members will ‘continue to respect the international consensus’ on the city

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)

A day after Hungary opened a “diplomatic” trade office in Jerusalem, the European Union on Wednesday insisted that its member states continue to oppose the presence of diplomatic missions in the city.

“The position of the European Union and its member states on Jerusalem remains unchanged,” a spokesperson for the EU’s mission in Tel Aviv told The Times of Israel.

“The European Union and its member states will continue to respect the international consensus on Jerusalem embodied in, inter alia, UN Security Council Resolution 478, including on the location of diplomatic representations until the final status of Jerusalem is resolved,” the spokesperson went on.

Passed in 1980, Resolution 478 calls upon all states “that have established diplomatic missions at Jerusalem to withdraw such missions from the Holy City.”

Hungary is not opening an embassy in Jerusalem but merely a trade office, the EU spokesperson stressed.

Meanwhile the Palestinian Authority said it was calling back its ambassador to Hungary for consultations in response to Budapest’s move.

Several Western European states, including France, have consulates in Jerusalem that serve primarily — but not only — Palestinians. But they are considered consular missions that fulfill a “totally different” objective than embassies or trade offices, according to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon.

“They take care of consular issues relevant to the population of Jerusalem. Here we’re talking about something totally different. This is pure diplomacy,” he told The Times of Israel on Tuesday, referring to the Hungarian trade office. “This is part of the embassy and they’re going to be dealing with issues that go way beyond mere consular issues.”

On Tuesday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ceremoniously cut the ribbon of the country’s new trade office. Located on the 15th floor of the Migdal Ha’ir office tower in western Jerusalem, the new office is considered a “branch” of the Central European country’s embassy in Israel, according to Netanyahu’s office.

“This is a very exciting moment for us because it’s the first European diplomatic mission opened in Jerusalem in many decades and three Hungarian diplomats are going to be assigned to this office for trade purposes,” the prime minister said. “That’s important for trade, for diplomacy and for the move that Hungary is leading right now to change the attitude in Europe toward Jerusalem.”

During the opening ceremony, Szijjártó reiterated that Budapest seeks a “fair and balanced” approach toward Israel by the international community, but did not explicitly refer to the trade office’s ostensible diplomatic status.

Earlier on Tuesday, during a visit to Jordan, the Hungarian foreign minister stressed that his country’s positions on the Middle East peace process are “in line” with that of the EU in Brussels.

“I would like to stress… that our embassy is in Tel Aviv, and no plans for changing this are on the agenda,” he said.

Hungary’s FM Péter Szijjártó and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu at the newly opened Hungarian trade mission in central Jerusalem, March 19, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

During the opening ceremony Szijjártó also said Budapest was against efforts to “combine restrictive economic and commercial measures with political issues,” presumably referring to the EU’s position to links progress in bilateral ties with any advancement in the peace process.

Szijjártó also reiterated his government’s opposition to the EU’s directive to label Israeli goods produced in settlements.

“We will not apply the decision of the European Commission on labeling. We do not support the list of companies in the settlements to be announced by the high representative of Human Rights of the United Nations and we urge for a tighter, better and more dynamic cooperation between Israel and the European Union,” he said.

In response to this statement, a source within the EU told The Times of Israel that EU members states have a “responsibility to enforce the guidelines and are aware of the need to apply European Commission law.”

Labeling settlement products “is consistent with EU’s policy on the Middle East peace process, whereby the EU considers Israeli settlements as illegal under international law and not a part of Israel,” the source went on.

Enforcing the labeling regime remains the primary responsibility of member states, but as the “guardian” of EU law the European Commission is tasked with ensuring compliance with the legal obligations of member states, the source explained.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, February 19, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom)

The opening of the Hungarian trade office was first announced last month during a visit to Jerusalem by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

On February 19, Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, too, announced the opening of a cultural and trade office in Jerusalem, though it was not immediately clear if it would have any diplomatic status.

But Orban and Pellegrini both stopped short of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Currently, only the US and Guatemala have their Israel embassies in Jerusalem.

The Czech Republic in November ceremoniously opened the so-called Czech House in Jerusalem, which houses companies such as CzechInvest, CzechTrade, CzechTourism, Czech Center in a small office space in the capital’s Cinematheque.

As opposed to the planned Hungarian trade mission, the Czech House does not have any diplomatic status, officials insisted at the time.

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