Israeli Ambassador to Hungary: If it was only up to Israel there could be peace tomorrow

Portfolio
If it solely depended on Israel, we could have peace tomorrow – said Yacov Hadas-Handelsman, Ambassador of Israel to Hungary during an interview with Portfolio. Based on the ambassador’s opinion the current situation with the Palestinians resembles a case where someone wins, and the other party is always given another chance and yet never misses the opportunity to fail. With respect to the cooperation between Israel and the Arab countries, the ambassador’s view is that Arab countries do not want to be hostages of the Palestinians anymore, and that a constructive relationship is a win-win scenario for all parties. Regarding the Iranian nuclear program, he warned that although this might be a simple diplomatic game for other countries, for Israel it is the importance of its existence. Concerning Israeli-Hungarian relations he said that there were agreements in the making, but certain obstacles remained due to the pandemic and the current political situation in Israel. However, he also noted that only the sky was the limit concerning the potential of Israeli-Hungarian relations in the future.
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There has been a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in recent days, ending an 11-day conflict. How long do you think the ceasefire will last and what steps can Israel take to maintain long-term peace?

I cannot say for how long the current ceasefire will last. However, the fact is that Israel has pulled out from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and full control of the region was given to the Palestinian authority. Now over two million people in the Gaza Strip live under the authority of Hamas which is a terror organization even according to the official standpoint of the European Union. Hamas uses Western taxpayers’ money meant to serve the reconstruction of Gaza to arm itself. Their ultimate goal which is also included in their charter is to eliminate the Jews and the state of Israel and claim all the territory stretching from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea to the Palestinians. So, I do not think we should be put on equal footing in this regard.

If it solely depended on Israel, we could have peace tomorrow, but Hamas does not want it.

In fact, they are preaching for a certain death culture where martyrdom is a virtue, while for us life is the most sacred virtue. I would also like to add that Hamas intends to demonstrate achievements to increase its support. You see, the Palestinian political sphere is divided, so even though Fatah is more popular than Hamas, it is split into three fractions. So, in case of an election, three Fatah candidates would face a one Hamas candidate which would eventually give the latter the edge for winning in the first past the post system. Based on polls Hamas would have taken over the West Bank as well if elections had been held even though Fatah is more popular even in the Gaza Strip compared to Hamas. So, when Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian National Authority postponed the Palestinian elections originally scheduled for 22 May, this frustrated Hamas which decided to gain support by launching rocket attacks and thus starting another round of fighting against Israel.

So, I think the question on what could be done should be addressed to them rather than to us. What I can say for sure is that the Israeli government and the public as well is losing their patience in this respect.

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What impact might the current conflict have on Israel’s relations with the Arab countries with which it has recently established diplomatic relations? In particular, what is Israel’s relationship with Bahrein and the UAE, and what progress is expected in terms of Israeli-Saudi relations?

It is a very calculated goal of Hamas to instigate rifts and disputes between Israel and the Arab countries and to win the masses there by always putting a burden on moderate Arab states.

In this particular round of conflict nothing extraordinary happened, although Hamas tends to place its rockets near populated areas like schools or hospitals and expecting that Israeli reaction attacks would hit them.

Nonetheless the relations with these Arab countries are very important for Israel mainly due to two reasons. Firstly, you must know that these relations do not start form nothing and have existed previously but were kept under the table. From now on, since the Israel and certain Arab countries publicly declared their intention to normalize their relations, only the sky is the limit. Secondly, a constructive relationship between Israel and the Arab countries is a win-win scenario for all parties.

The way I could describe it is that, they have the money, and we have the skills a so-called startup nation can provide.

I think the Arab countries do not want to be hostages of the Palestinians anymore. For it has become a common wisdom the Palestinians have the “veto right” on any move towards Israel by an Arab state. Of course, they support the Palestinians, but the question is to what extent. These common interests led to the improvement of relations with the Gulf states.

With respect to Saudi Arabia, I do not know how the bilateral relations will develop, but one can assume the recent rapprochement with the UAE and Bahrein could not have happened without Saudi support. For sure this process will take time, but the fact that Israeli planes are now allowed to fly over Saudi territory is a major development. The increased cooperation with the UAE and Bahrein, is also a result of another common interest which is the threat Iran poses to the wider region and beyond.

The Trump administration has played a key role in helping Israel to normalize its relations with certain Arab countries. Now that Donald Trump is not sitting in the White House, what future do you predict for Israeli American relations? In addition, U.S. President Joe Biden has come under considerable pressure in recent days form progressive Democrats to reassess the dynamics of U.S.-Israeli and U.S. Palestinian relations. What impact do you think this could have on the development of U.S.-Israeli relations?

I think that the process the Trump administration initiated is a winning formula and I assume that the new American government is also aware of this. For example, even though Joe Biden expressed his intention to revisit the agreement concluded between the Trump administration and the UAE regarding the sale of F-35 type fighter jets, the deal was not subject to change following the respective reconsideration.

I am also aware of the fact that there are certain changes going on in the United States, but I believe that the support and friendship towards Israel is bipartisan. If you take President Biden, he is a genuine friend of Israel which he has demonstrated many times for over 40 years. Sure, there are a few democrat politicians who wish to reassess the U.S.–Israeli relations but I think that most lawmakers in the Democratic party support Israel.

What is Israel’s position on the ongoing negotiations with Iran aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal? What can countries in the region do to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?

We are of the opinion that the 2015 agreement is a bad one, mainly since it does not cover all aspects in relation to developing a nuclear weapon. For example, they forgot to address the issue of the missiles as a launching pad for nuclear bombs. In fact, Iran is still developing missiles which cannot be justified unless they would carry a nuclear warhead.

Accordingly, the agreement solely delays the development of a nuclear weapon but does not put a definite end to the process.

What I can say is that all Zionist parties in Israel, regardless of the fact whether they are on right or left side of the political spectrum oppose the current deal as it is not effective. So why is it worth reviving it?

Iran clearly does not respect the provisions of the agreement. This is also supported by hard evidence, as the Iranian archives retrieved by Mossad show that Iran deliberately does not comply with the rules set forth but is determined to reach a military nuclear capability (unless stopped).

You must understand that although this might be a simple diplomatic game for other countries, for us it is an existential one.

Therefore, we made it very clear that we would not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon and this standpoint reflects the opinion of the Israeli public as well.

Of course, we understand that Western states such as the United States or Germany are also concerned and that our goals are the same, but the proposed methods as to how to reach our common goal are different. This difference derives from the fact that

if Iran indeed obtained a nuclear weapon, we would be the target. For us it is the importance of its existence!

What are your views on the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine? To what extent can such an attempt for settlement be viable and what steps can Israel take to make it happen?

The current problem is not whether the two-state solution is the right solution but rather the mere fact that there are no negotiations going on. Even when they were in process under the Obama administration no concrete results were achieved.

For example, in 2014 John Kerry who served as secretary of state for the U.S. at the time drafted a plan for resolution which we agreed to (though with some reservations). Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians said that they would consider and get back to it, but this never happened. No one is waiting for this anymore. I remember when in 2010 Prime Minister Netanyahu flew to Washington for a meeting with President Obama, King Abdullah II of Jordan, then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and of course Mahmoud Abbas from the Palestinian side, in order to kickstart a peace process. I was also there, everybody spoke very highly of the idea of peace in the region, nevertheless it did not materialize, because the Palestinians failed to take the crucial decisions.

I can also mention the Annapolis process during which there was a secret backchannel between then Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas. The idea was that Israel withdraws to the borders of 1967. Nevertheless, some adjustments and compensation of lands would have been made since more than 200,000 Israelis are living in the West Bank nowadays and, with all due respect, there are irreversible steps. Again, Abbas said he would get back to it, but it never happened.

So, the core issue is pretty simple: if two sides are fighting for the same thing you need to reach a compromise, otherwise the conflict continues forever. A price should be paid both by Israel and Palestine.

Based on this, I think the most important aspects for a two-state solution (or indeed any solution) are the following:

  1. You cannot go back to the borders of 1967 because things have changed.
  2. The right of return should be revoked.
  3. No compromise on Israeli security needs.
  4. Everyone should recognize Israel as an independent Jewish state.
  5. Palestine should also be recognized as the home of the Palestinian people.

The current situation with the Palestinians resembles a case where someone wins, and the other party is repeatedly given another chance. What people tend to forget is that if we lose, we will not exist.

It is an unprecedented case in which the Palestinians try time and again to fight us, lose, but instead of paying the full price for their mistakes, there are given a new chance by us and yet never miss the opportunity to fail…

Hungary and Israel have strengthened their political and economic relations in a number of areas over recent months. Significant military, pharmaceutical and tourism agreements are being outlined between the two countries and Hungary has indicated with an EU veto that it considers Israel to be a key strategic partner. What do you expect from Hungarian Israeli economic cooperation in the long run? What new agreements can be concluded between Hungary and Israel in the near future?

There are agreements in the making but there are also some obstacles since now we have a transitional government in Israel, the authority of which to sign major international agreements is very limited.

Nevertheless, I would like to emphasize that the potential of an increased cooperation between Israel and Hungary is enormous which stretches through various areas, from space research to agriculture.

. In terms of the latter Israel can help Hungary in developing a sophisticated agriculture by building water pipelines to cope with the effects of climate change. With respect to the pharmaceutical sector TEVA qualifies as a major player in Hungary.

Car manufacturing may also serve as a field for cooperation. Israel works closely with Germany regarding the development of batteries for electric vehicles. Hungary is also playing an important role in the car industry with its several factories. So, in this case instead of a bilateral relationship we think that a triangular cooperation between Hungary, Israel and Germany would prove to be more beneficial.

Finally, cultural and tourism related cooperation is also significant. For example, in 2019 Israeli tourists stood on the 10th place regarding amount of tourism nights spent in Hungary and on the 6th place in Budapest.

Unfortunately, major developments for cooperation came to a standstill with the arrival of the pandemic but I believe they will improve as we come out of this situation. Taking this into consideration I think only the sky is the limit concerning the potential of Israeli-Hungarian relations in the future.

Cover photo: Andras Mayer/Embassy of the State of Israel

 

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