Hungary denies it’s decided to move embassy to Jerusalem

After FM Eli Cohen says announcement coming in matter of weeks, Budapest — seemingly caught off-guard — tempers expectations

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (L) with his Hungarian counterpart Péter Szijjártó in Budapest, May 31, 2023. (Israeli Embassy in Hungary)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (L) with his Hungarian counterpart Péter Szijjártó in Budapest, May 31, 2023. (Israeli Embassy in Hungary)

A day after Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said that Hungary would be moving its embassy to Jerusalem in the near future, Budapest denied that any such decision had been made.

“We have been operating a trade office in Jerusalem since 2019, but no decision has so far been made on any further steps,” Hungary’s Ambassador to Israel Levente Benko told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

At a Chabad event in Budapest Wednesday, Cohen told attendees that “Hungary will be the first country in the European Union that will announce in a number of weeks that it is moving its embassy to Jerusalem.”

The Foreign Ministry and Hungary’s embassy in Israel initially declined to comment.

Though Budapest’s reaction was not a denial, it did seem to indicate that it had been caught off-guard by Cohen’s comments.

In March, senior Foreign Ministry officials told Zman Yisrael, the Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban had reached an agreement on the move.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on July 19, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Sources who confirmed the planned embassy transfer linked the move to Orban’s desire to help out Netanyahu, handing the premier a diplomatic achievement amid political instability over his government’s contentious plans to overhaul Israel’s judicial system.

Netanyahu has long had close relations with Orban, who has been in power since 2010. Their bond has further tightened since Netanyahu’s return to power after the general election in November, with the two showering praise upon each other and looking to further both bilateral ties and their own connection.

If it does take the step, Hungary would be the first European Union member state to open an embassy in Jerusalem, which the bloc opposes in the absence of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

The United States, Guatemala, Honduras, and Kosovo have full embassies in Jerusalem. Several other countries maintain embassy branches or trade missions in Jerusalem, including Australia and the Czech Republic.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state. Nearly all countries maintain their embassies in the Tel Aviv area because of the dispute over Jerusalem.

Beyond the embassy issue, there were several important developments in bilateral ties during Cohen’s visit. Hungary committed to submit a brief supporting Israel to the International Criminal Court, which in 2021 began an open-ended investigation into possible Israeli and Palestinian war crimes.

Budapest said it would also be more vocal in the EU against Palestinian Authority payments of stipends to convicted terrorists and the families of slain attackers.

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