Hungary reestablished full diplomatic relations with Israel on Monday, ending a 22-year-old breach dating from the 1967 Six-Day War.
All East bloc countries except Romania severed relations at the time.
Hungary, the first to restore full relations, acknowledged Monday it had been a bad mistake to break with Israel in the first place.
Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens, who flew secretly into Budapest at dawn, and Hungarian Foreign Minister Gyula Horn signed “a protocol on the re-establishment of Hungarian-Israeli relations” in ceremonies at the Foreign Ministry, the official Hungarian news agency, MTI, announced.
Arens called it “a historic step in the right direction.”
MTI quoted Horn as saying the resumption of full diplomatic relations with Israel signifies that Hungary is discarding past mistakes and is further proof its new reformist thinking.
The two countries will exchange ambassadors. Jerusalem announced Monday that Shlomo Merom, who has headed the Israeli interests section here since it was established 18 months ago, will be the new envoy.
Merom, who already holds the rank of ambassador, will present his credentials shortly.
Hungary is expected to send a ranking diplomat to serve as its ambassador in Tel Aviv.
Horn was quoted as saying that “Hungary is against confrontation, endorses dialogue and wants good relations with all countries based on mutual advantage.”
Referring to the resumed ties with Israel, he stressed that “this step is not aimed against anybody and will probably be helpful in solving the Middle East conflict.”
RUMORS AS EARLY AS 1983
But according to Merom, the Hungarian decision was a blow to persistent Arab diplomatic efforts to isolate Israel on the world scene. He noted, nevertheless, that the two countries have not altered their divergent views of the Middle East conflict.
Arens was accompanied at the signing ceremony in Budapest by Yeshayahu Anug, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry, and Salai Meridor, his political secretary.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it was pleased that Hungary and Israel had decided to re-establish full relations. “We hope that other members of the Warsaw Pact will follow Hungary’s lead,” said department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler.
The restoration of Hungarian-Israeli ties was long in coming. There were reports as early as April 1983 that Hungary with Israel.
Israeli officials refused to confirm or deny the rumors, but trade eventually materialized. Hungarian exports to Israel reached $8.5 million this year, and imports totaled $9 million
The creation in 1988 of Israeli and Hungarian interests sections in Budapest and Tel Aviv was a first step toward normalization.
Interest sections, the lowest level of diplomatic representation, were established at about the same time by Israel and Poland.
Israel and the Soviet Union have exchanged consular delegations. But normal diplomatic relations are not imminent.
According to Merom, Hungary’s decision to go all the way was “not against the wishes” of the Soviet Union. He thought it might serve as a precedent for other East bloc countries.
An inkling that something might be in the wind with Hungary came on April 17, when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir made a one-day, unexpected the unannounced visit to Budapest.
LIFE EASIER FOR HUNGARY’S JEWS
Deputy Foreign Minister Istvan Oszi told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency a few days ago that “no doubt our target is to establish diplomatic relations.” He gave no indication, however, how soon it would happen.
One of the reasons Hungary wanted full relations with Israel, Oszi said, is that “there are lots of Israelis of Hungarian origin.” He added, “Their problems cannot be fully dealt with without full diplomatic relations.”
The resumption of diplomatic relations will affect Hungary’s Jewish population, which is estimated to be between 80,000 and 100,000.
Uri Gordon, head of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration and Absorption Department, said he was expecting some 300 olim from Hungary by the end of the year.
But for the majority of Hungarian Jews who will remain, life has become easier in the last two years of reform-minded Communist leadership.
“In the past few months, the whole system has changed,” said Ilona Seifert, secretary-general of the Central Board of Hungarian Jews.
“We have very close relations with Israel now,” she said.
The World Jewish Congress opened an office in Budapest in July, and on Sept. 8, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee officially reopened its office here, after an absence of more than 30 years.
(JTA Jerusalem Bureau Chief David Landau contributed to this report.)
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.