Netanyahu welcomes Eastern European leaders to Israel, amid warming relations

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announces opening of trade office in Jerusalem with “diplomatic status” • Follows Czech President Milos Zeman’s visit to Jerusalem in November and inauguration of the Czech Center for Culture, Economics and Tourism, or Czech House.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu give joint remarks in Jerusalem on Feb. 19, 2019. Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu give joint remarks in Jerusalem on Feb. 19, 2019. Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.

In response to Poland withdrawing from a planned summit, hosted in Israel, along with leaders from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the leaders of the aforementioned three nations to Jerusalem on Tuesday amid warming ties with the Eastern European countries.

Poland withdrew on Sunday from the so-called Visegrád group following comments by Israel’s foreign minister about apparent Polish collaboration with the Nazis during the Holocaust.

On Tuesday morning, Netanyahu met each with Peter Pellegrini and Andrej Babis, prime minister of Slovakia and the Czech Republic, respectively.

In joint remarks with the Slovak prime minister, the Israeli leader congratulated Pellegrini on his upcoming opening of a new information, culture and innovation center in Jerusalem.

“Because we also made the decision that Slovakia will have for the first time in our history only four diplomats responsible for innovation, and one of these will be exactly in Jerusalem at this new center,” said Pellegrini.

It is currently unknown if the Slovak center in Jerusalem will have any diplomatic status.

Additionally, Netanyahu said, “We just spoke about the possibility of enhancing Israel’s capabilities in autonomous transportation and your capabilities which are quite amazing in producing cars. I don’t know if people are aware of the fact that Slovakia per capita produces more cars than any other country in the world.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán hold a joint press conference at the Parliament building in Budapest on July 18, 2017. Credit: Haim Zach/GPO.

“There are many, many things that connect us and I have to tell you that we are cooperating in areas of security, defense, intelligence … but in every conceivable area of civilian cooperation, economic growth, the work of productivity, the ability to give a better, richer, safer, healthier life to our citizens,” he added. “I think there’s much to do, and I welcome the fact that we are talking concretely about doing that and I welcome you to Jerusalem. Welcome.”

Pellegrini invited Netanyahu to his home country. Netanyahu appreciated the invitation and said, “I just have to get re-elected.” Israeli elections will be held on April 9.

Babis, who visited Israel for the first time, visited in what was a follow-up to Czech President Milos Zeman’s welcoming visit to Jerusalem last November, when he inaugurated the Czech Center for Culture, Economics and Tourism, or Czech House. Zeman previewed this move in September as “the first step with the intention to relocate the embassy of the Czech Republic to Jerusalem, in accordance with international law.”

Netanyahu told Babis that the opening of the Czech House was “a very moving moment for us because we saw in visual aesthetic terms the long relationship between the Czech people and the Jewish people, which began also with the tremendously important support for Zionism by Tomáš Masaryk, who was really the founder of the modern Czechoslovakia and the modern Czech Republic.”

“The support of your country for Israel has been through thick and thin. Your country knows what it means to be a small democracy surrounded by hostile forces much bigger than them fighting for its survival and its freedom,” added Netanyahu. “We understand the story of your country and I think your country understands the story of Israel. And that has led to a very close friendship that is repeated again and again by successive visits.”

‘A sign of our friendship’

The Israeli prime minister expressed hope for another visit “in the form of a G2G meeting in Prague in which we hope to conclude some important agreements, including some military agreements, but equally to work on matters of technology and innovation, including the question of helping with Israeli expertise to address some of the Czech Republic’s water problems.”

Babis told Netanyahu: “We have excellent cooperation and that is why the Czech Republic is highly interested to continue in consultation between our governments. As you said, and you promised, that we will finally organize this G2G in Prague this year because the last G2G was in Jerusalem in 2016, and it’s high time that we continue in this very concrete cooperation.”

Finally, Netanyahu met on Tuesday afternoon with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The two have a close relationship, with the latter announcing the opening of a trade office in Jerusalem with “diplomatic status.”

Netanyahu thanked Orbán for “deciding to extend the embassy of Hungary in Israel to Jerusalem, that is to have an extension in Jerusalem that deals with trade.”

“This is important,” continued the Israeli prime minister. “It’s a sign of our friendship. And it’s also a place in Jerusalem that can welcome you next time you come here.”

Netanyahu emphasized the shared goal of combating Islamic terrorism and the Iranian threat, in addition to speaking about furthering cooperation between the two countries in intelligence and security, plus “trade, science, technology, health, the environment and many others.”

Netanyahu also praised the Hungarian leader for standing up against anti-Israel sentiment in the European Union and other places, in addition to adopting the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.

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