Hungarian FM: EU must give Trump plan a chance

Hungary has been one of a small number of EU member states - Czech Republic and Austria are the others - that consistently blocked statements against the Trump plan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his meeting with Hungarian Foreign Minister, July 20, 2020 (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his meeting with Hungarian Foreign Minister, July 20, 2020
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Hungary vetoed EU condemnation of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan because it has more hope to succeed than any previous proposal, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview during his half-day visit to Israel on Monday.
“All of the plans put forward so far have failed,” he said. “If you look at the Trump plan, we do believe it has the most hope to be a basis of successful negotiations. That’s why we have vetoed the EU statement condemning the plan when it was published.”
Hungary has been one of a small number of EU member states – Czech Republic and Austria are the others – that consistently blocked statements against the Trump plan that threatened Israel if it applies its sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria.
“We think that we should give this plan time and patience, to see if it works or not, instead of judging it upfront,” Szijjártó said.
The Trump plan would allow Israel to apply its laws to 30% of Judea and Samaria, including all settlements and the Jordan Valley.
Szijjártó was unwilling to entertain hypothetical questions about Israel extending its sovereignty.
“Let’s wait until Israel makes a decision,” he said. “Judging Israel on something that has not been done yet, on which there has been no decision made yet, doesn’t make sense. It’s very counterproductive.”
Hungary is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board, and as such, it received its recent reports of Iranian breaches of the 2015 agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
In a statement following their meeting, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said they spoke about regional security.
“We believe that the greatest threat to regional stability and peace is Iran,” he said. “Israel will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons, and we will not allow Iranian entrenchment on our borders.”
The world “must hold Iran accountable and act strongly against Iran’s malign activities,” Ashkenazi added.
Szijjártó emphasized in the interview that Hungary, which has a peaceful nuclear-energy program, is “heavily against increasing the number of countries with nuclear weapons.”
“In case of a suspicion that a country would like to develop nuclear weapons, I think the toughest, strongest possible decisions and steps on behalf of the international community should come,” he said.
The EU would like to preserve the nuclear deal “in a way that Iran will be forced to comply with its obligations,” Szijjártó said, but if it does not, “it’s a new situation.”
Ashkenazi also spoke out against Iranian support for Hezbollah precision missiles that would give the Lebanese terrorist group greater strategic offensive capabilities to threaten Israel.
Asked whether Hungary would ban Hezbollah in its entirety, as opposed to the EU, which only bans its “military wing,” even though Hezbollah does not divide itself in that way, Szijjártó said Ashkenazi asked him the same question, but Hungary does not have its own list.
“This decision can and should be made on a European level,” Szijjártó said. “We understand Germany has [banned Hezbollah], which is a serious signal [for the EU], and if the Germans want to put it on the agenda, they definitely will, and then we will see where this decision will evolve.”
Hungary is also one of eight countries that oppose the International Criminal Court ruling on Israel’s actions in Judea and Samaria and Gaza in recent years. Szijjártó signed Budapest’s letter to the ICC on the matter.
“We have a very firm position,” he said. “The ICC simply does not have jurisdiction on issues regarding Israel. That is why I sent the letter making our position very clear.”
Though one of the judges ruling on the matter of jurisdiction is Hungarian, Szijjártó said he “must be totally independent from the government, so obviously there is no connection.”
In remarks to the press following his meeting with Ashkenazi, Szijjártó compared his country’s standing with that of Israel.
“If there were a competition among countries of who is most attacked by the world media, Israel and Hungary would be among the top three for sure,” he said.
Soon after the press conference, while speaking to the Post at the Fattal Terminal for VIPs in Ben-Gurion Airport, Szijjártó explained why he thought this was so.
The “international liberal mainstream cannot digest that there are governments running patriotic policies, totally opposite to the liberal mainstream,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – with whom Szijjártó met for an hour, twice as long as originally scheduled – and his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, “are concentrating on their national interests,” Szijjártó said.
“As Trump says, ‘America first,’” he said. “We in Hungary say, ‘Hungary first,’ and we understand well when Prime Minister Netanyahu says, ‘Israel first.’”
Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party ran with the slogan: “Israel before all.”
Hungary under Orban and Israel under Netanyahu have both faced international criticisms that they are becoming less democratic.
The accusations are “untrue and unfair,” Szijjártó said.
“If we had not acted according to the will of the people, we wouldn’t have been reelected,” he said. “The fact that we have been in office for 11 continuous years now – we didn’t win it in the lottery.
“The authorization was given to us by the people. One might not like what we do politically... I accept that there are different kinds of positions. But one thing must not be said, that it’s not democratic. It is democratic because it was based on the will of the people.”
Regarding accusations that the Orban government encourages antisemitism through its public condemnation of billionaire George Soros, whose organizations funded a university and liberal civil society groups in Hungary, Szijjártó said: “When there are complaints about the government on the field of the fight against antisemitism, we cannot consider it any more than being politically motivated.”
He pointed out that Hungary has the largest Jewish community in Central Europe, and unlike in most of the continent, in Budapest, synagogues and Jewish community events do not need armed guards. He also pointed to government-funded reconstruction projects for synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.
“We have zero tolerance for antisemitism,” he said.
Szijjártó visited Jerusalem last year to open a Hungarian trade office in the capital, but moving the entire embassy is not currently on the agenda.
“The economic representation is part of the embassy,” he said. “Up to now, this is where we can go.”
Szijjártó also referred to an Israeli-Hungarian partnership to combat coronavirus. Celitron, a subsidiary in Hungary of the Israeli company BATM Advanced Communications, is producing ventilators in Hungary to treat COVID-19.
In light of the pandemic, countries now have “a duty to build strategic capacities to be able to produce the most important protective equipment on our own,” he said. “This new step made in cooperation now with Israel... [means] we will be able to produce what we need and be an exporting country as well.”
During his visit, Szijjártó also met with Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay.