Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working to get closer to countries in Central and Eastern Europe. In so doing the Israeli prime minister is seeking to form a pro-Israel alternative to the European Union, which includes countries that traditionally supported Israel but criticized its settlement policy in Palestinian occupied territories.
Netanyahu officially launched his plan a year ago, last July, when he was speaking at a meeting in Budapest, which included the Prime Ministers of Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia. At the time, it was not clear whether it was intended or deliberate that the microphone remained open in the presence of journalists before cutting it off, according to a report published by Haaretz on Sunday.
Netanyahu told the leaders of the four countries meeting in Budapest that, “In order to provide Israel with technology, the European Union is the only international organization that requires political considerations. We have special relations with China apart from the interference of any political issue. Indian Prime Minister, Narendura, told me that the interests of India are top priority to him. Also, Russia and Africa do not set any political conditions, only the EU does. This is irrational and contradicts the European interests”.
The newspaper noted strengthening relations between Israel and these countries, emerging through mutual cooperation, “in order to strike consensus in the corridors of the EU on the Palestinian and the Iranian issues”. Netanyahu has asked his four allies to support Israel saying: “I would suggest that you send a message to your European counterparts that you should not act in secret against the only state in the region that cares about Europe’s interests. Stop attacking Israel. In this way Europe is working against its own security, only because of an insane attempt to set political conditions. The European Union must decide whether it wants to exist or to disappear”.
Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, is expected to visit Israel on 18 July, where he will visit the Yad Veshem Museum to commemorate the Holocaust as well as the Western Wall. The leaders of these four countries, also known as the Visegrad Group, will hold their next meeting in Israel.
The newspaper added that this Israeli act is extending to include other countries, such as Austria, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Cyprus and Greece. Some European observers said that “when the European Union wants to issue a decision on behalf of all member states, as in the case of all external issues, it is recurrent that Hungary jumps in to stop statements like these or demand to lessen criticism against Israel, which might make other countries unable to sign and leads to the blockage of the signature process”.
Perhaps the most recent example of this situation is the objection of Hungary, Czech Republic and Romania to a statement issued by the EU against the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem. In addition to Austria, these countries participated in a reception organized by the Israeli Foreign Ministry on the occasion of the transfer of the US Embassy. At the same time, Czech Republic and Slovakia announced the relocation of their cultural centres to Jerusalem and promised to move their embassies to Jerusalem in the future.
Israel has warned against improving relations with the Visegrad countries at the expense of its connexions with major European countries. Nimrod Gorin, head of Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies claimed that, “the choice of the Visegrad states, especially as allies of Israel in Europe, is a sign of departing from the values of liberal democracy. The Economist Index lists all the Visegrad countries as inferior to Israel, which indicates the deterioration of their democratic standards in recent years”. He pointed out that any befriending of these countries with extremist national systems “is contrary to Israel’s efforts to combat the extreme right-wing anti-Semitic trends in other countries in Europe”.
Haaretz quoted Israeli officials as saying that, “the Visegrad alliance is interested in closer ties with Israel for the same reasons pushing the world in this direction, which is the potential to improve relations in terms of economic and technological development and to meet the challenge of transnational terrorism as well as internal security”. According to these officials, Netanyahu’s rush to resolve the crisis with Poland over Poland’s Holocaust law, stirring up a tension in Israel, is linked to his desire to improve relations between the two countries and their cooperation in the international arena, in spite of Netanyahu’s office denial of these allegations.