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Hungary FM, one of Israel’s staunchest allies in Europe, due in Jerusalem Monday

In half-day visit, Péter Szijjártó to meet Netanyahu and Ashkenazi to discuss fight against COVID-19; annexation not high on agenda, Jerusalem officials say

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)

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, one of Israel’s staunchest allies in Europe, is set to arrive in Jerusalem on Monday for a half-day visit to Israel to discuss joint efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic and discuss other issues on the international agenda.

Szijjártó is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, and Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay, with whom he will sign a bilateral agreement on cooperation in the fields of space research.

“We have very good relations with Hungary. And we appreciate not only their support for Israel in international forums but we’re also closely cooperating on fighting the coronavirus,” Avi Nir-Feldklein, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s Europe bureau, said Sunday.

“For instance, we’re working together on producing respirators at an [Israeli-owned] factory in Hungary, which of course takes on additional meaning during the second wave we’re currently experiencing. Foreign Minister Szijjártó actually visited the factory recently.”

Nir-Feldklein was referring to Celitron Medical Technologies, located in Vác, which was founded by an Israeli, Itzik Carmel. Celitron usually focuses on medical waste management, but currently produces the Panther 5 ventilator, which is said to be an important tool in the fight against COVID-19.

Budapest has in recent years been Jerusalem’s staunchest supporter in the European Union, blocking several efforts to issue statements critical of Israeli policies.

For instance, Hungary is one of the only countries that has not publicly spoken out against Israel’s plan to unilaterally annex large parts of the West Bank. Szijjártó has reiterated on several occasions that the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban will continue to stand up against one-sided condemnations of the Jewish state.

In a phone call in May, Szijjártó also told Ashkenazi that “Israel can continue to count on Hungary’s fair and balanced standpoint,” according to a readout of their conversation.

Szijjártó has also expressed rare praise for US President Donald Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century, saying that the administration’s Mideast peace plan “is suitable for creating peace and stability in the region in the long term.”

However, officials in Jerusalem said Sunday that Netanyahu’s planned annexation, which has recently disappeared from the headlines amid a resurgent coronavirus and a hesitant White House, is not expected to feature prominently in Szijjártó’s discussions with his Israeli counterparts.

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

In February, Szijjártó, who was been foreign minister since 2014, signed an official document supporting Israel’s position that the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction to investigate possible war crimes committed in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

Budapest “has doubts that Palestine fulfills all the constitutive elements of statehood, and hence the territorial jurisdiction of the Court does not necessarily extend to ‘occupied Palestinian territories,’” the document stated.

One of the three judges of an ICC pre-trial chamber currently weighing the question of jurisdiction, Péter Kovács, is a Hungarian national. But Israel does not intend to ask Szijjártó to get involved in the matter, officials in Jerusalem said.

In March 2019, Szijjártó ceremoniously opened a trade mission in Jerusalem, making Hungary the first and so far only EU member state to operate an office with diplomatic status in the capital.

Szijjártó is the fifth senior foreign dignitary to visit Israel since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year. He is not scheduled to visit the Palestinian territories.

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