The Opening of Trade Offices in Jerusalem

Hungary opening of trade diplomatic office in Jerusalem

  • First diplomatic mission to be opened in Jerusalem by an EU member state – On March 19, Hungary opened a trade diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, stressing the fact that the mission has diplomatic status. This constitutes the most significant deviation to date from the longstanding EU policy regarding the political status of Jerusalem. While this does not equal the opening of an embassy in Jerusalem, it is a clear sign of erosion in the heretofore unified EU position.
  • The not-so hidden motivation behind Hungary’s move– Hungary has sought to attribute maximal significance to the move, especially in the United States, in a transparent attempt to use it to earn the favor of the Trump administration.   For example, Hungary has widely distributed this letter touting the move to the diplomatic and policy communities in Washington DC,  even to  those who have openly opposed the US’ decision to transfer the US embassy to Jerusalem. The letter further highlights the political motivations behind the opening of “diplomatic” offices in Jerusalem and the fact that Jerusalem is used as a platform to achieve political gains with the US, in apparent disregard of the impact of the decision on EU consensus and the support for a two-state outcome.

Is Romania moving embassy to Jerusalem?

  • The PM’s announcement – Romania’s PM Viorica Dăncilă announced on March 24, during her speech at AIPC’s annual conference, her intention to move Romania’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. While she was congratulated at AIPAC, her announcement was met with caution  by PM Netanyahu as he took care to reword her announcement by welcoming her intention to “act to complete the procedures needed to open the Romanian embassy in Jerusalem”.  Jordan’s King Abdullah II cancelled his trip to Romania in reaction to her announcement.
    Dăncilă had already tried to advance the transfer of the embassy last April, when she submitted a draft bill to the Cabinet in support of the move.
  • Limited practical implications – Both last April and this week, Romania’s PM was rebuked by Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis, who has full prerogative according to Romanian Law on the creation and change of status of diplomatic missions. In his public response, he then declared unequivocally that :
    “The President, as the only one vested with making Romanian foreign policy decisions and as a representative of Romania abroad, in accordance with the constitutional provisions, reiterates that Romania’s constant position regarding the Middle East Peace Process remains unchanged. President Klaus Iohannis once more stresses the need for a fair and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by implementing “the two-states solution”, Israel and Palestine, co-existing in peace and security, as the unique feasible option capable of ensuring the parties’ meeting their aspirations.     
    The President of Romania reaffirms that Romania’s position on the status of Jerusalem remains in line with the one established by the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly.“

    Following Dăncilă’s statement at AIPAC, President Iohannis reportedly stated that “The Prime Minister shows complete ignorance regarding foreign affairs.”
    As President Iohannis holds firmly the line against his government, the move of the embassy seems for now very much unlikely. However, the domestic controversy on this issue is another troubling  sign that there are political voices in Europe who are determined to break the EU consensus on Jerusalem and the international law on the basis of which this consensus was built.

  • Cracks in the EU Consensus on Jerusalem – A clear pattern is emerging. Key players in certain member states in the EU, principally in the former Eastern bloc, are clearly indicating their desire to move their embassies to Jerusalem, whether in support of Netanyahu and his policies, or to win favor in the Trump administration, or for their own domestic reasons. Whatever the motivation, they are apparently willing to break ranks with the  EU on its longstanding Jerusalem policies, if necessary.  So far, no EU’s member state has carried this out. The  decision to open trade representative offices and to tout them as “diplomatic” offices is an attempt to have it both ways: to placate Israel, at least partially, and to demonstrate support for the US policy on Jerusalem, while averting a serious rift within the EU and an even more blatant violation of international law. Without dismissing the importance of the Hungarian move, the decision to open a trade mission rather than moving the embassy to Jerusalem is an important nuance that underscores the fact that the  political reluctance to openly break ranks with the EU and to violate international law remains, to date, intact. The firm, sustained and coherent stance of the key EU’s member states and key regional players in the Middle East remains the decisive deterrence factor against following the US lead by moving their embassy to Jerusalem.

Honduras to open a trade representation office in Jerusalem

It should be noted that these trends are by no means limited to the EU. The president of Honduras also used the opportunity of his speech at AIPC to announce that Honduras will open a trade representation office in Jerusalem. While Honduras’s parliament approved moving its embassy to Jerusalem last April, the President has yet to make that decision and elected to limit the move to the opening of a trade office.  For Honduras as well, the primary motivation has been clearly to get the favor of the US administration. It has however apparently not helped much as a few days later the State Department announced his decision to cut USAID funds to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to sanction their failure to restrain migration to the US.

Brazilian President’s joint visit to Western Wall and opening of trade office in Jerusalem

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro made the news during his visit to Israel on April 1st as the first leader visiting the Western Wall accompanied by Israel’s Prime Minister. Why this could constitute a tacit recognition of Israel’s sovereignty there, he however backtracked from the promise made during his electoral campaign to move Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem, reiterated on twitter after the elections. Hence, instead of an embassy, President Bolsonaro used the opportunity of his visit to announce the opening of a trade office. The motivation behind the decision to backtrack are not fully clear but it is reasonable to assess that threats from Arab trade partners to boycott Brazilian exports did indeed contribute to the President decision.

As in the Hungarian case, the choices made by the Brazilian President are an attempt to play on two fronts: satisfying both Israel’s aspirations without upsetting too much important partners. But the decision to visit the Western Wall with Israel’s prime minister, which as mentioned is a first for a foreign leader, is a very important nuance, and has consequences not dissimilar to  the transfer of the embassies or the opening of trade offices.  It disregards the religious sensitivity of the site and turn it into a political prop at a time when tensions are high, apparently based on the assumption that it will not trigger any concrete retaliation against Brazil.