Czechia and Hungary block EU sanctions against Israeli settlers

Czechia and Hungary block EU sanctions against Israeli settlers
The two Central European states have been the only EU countries to consistently pledge uncritical support for Israel’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank. / bne IntelliNews
By Robert Anderson in Prague February 7, 2024

Czechia and Hungary are blocking a move by the European Union to sanction Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories who attack local Palestinians, according to local media reports.

The U.S. last week said it would impose sanctions on four individuals who have killed or displaced Palestinians from their land. In December the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell proposed a similar move to sanction 12 settlers for abuses with penalties such as restricting their entry to the EU.

The two Central European states have been the only EU countries to consistently pledge uncritical support for the Israeli government's actions in Gaza and the West Bank. This time even traditionally pro-Israeli Germany was backing the EU sanctions on the settlers.

In the past Prague and Budapest have often prevented the EU from taking any kind of united stance criticising Israel. They have pledged unquestioning support to whatever Israel does, whether it is led by more moderate governments or the far-right administrations of Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

In December Czechia and Hungary (together with Austria) were also amongst only 10 countries around the world to vote against a call for a ceasefire in Gaza at the United Nations General Assembly.

The Israeli invasion of Gaza since October 27 following Hamas’ bloody incursion into Israel has killed more than 27,000 people, the majority of whom are women and children, according to Palestinian authorities.

At the same time, Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories have seized the opportunity to step up their attacks on Palestinians, killing several, and forcing them to leave their homes, with little or no attempt to stop them by the Israeli army. UN resolutions have consistently called for Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories and halt illegal settlements there.

The latest proof of the firm alliance between the two countries and Israel comes as some 80 leading Czech figures signed an open letter to the government to change its pro-Israel stance and stop ignoring the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip caused by the Israeli invasion.

“The Czech government unreservedly supports the current Israeli government, regardless of the humanitarian disaster, both on international forums and in Israel, as well as through its communications in the Czech Republic. We don't understand it,” the letter reads.

The signatories urge the government to criticise human rights abuses on both sides – not just on Hamas’s – and urges the government to join the International Court of Justice's call for humanitarian support in the Gaza Strip.

The signatories also pointed to the government's different approaches to the war in Ukraine and that in Gaza. "The Czech Republic supports Ukraine on the basis of international law. In relation to Israel, however, the Czech government, contrary to international law, does not take into account the basic rights of millions of Palestinians," they write.

President Peter Pavel recently visited Israel to express his support for Israel, without expressing “any public reservations about Israel's conduct of the war", the letter points out.

Among the signatories are cleric Tomáš Halík, Bishop Václav Malý, writer Radka Denemarková and former ombudsman Anna Šabatová.

Both Czechia and Hungary have long chafed at what they regard as the European Union’s overly critical attitude towards Israel, and have urged the bloc to deepen its links to Tel Aviv regardless of Israel’s attacks on Palestinians and its continuing occupation of and encroachment on their land following its victory in the 1967 war.

Both states have also forged military and intelligence links with Israel, which has become a significant arms and security supplier to the region, as the recent scandals over the use of Israeli Pegasus spyware against domestic opponents in Hungary and Poland has revealed.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has developed a particularly close relationship with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu. The two radical rightwing leaders share an ethno-national vision of the state, and Orban believes that Israel and Hungary are bulwarks against the “Islamisation” of Europe.

Supporting Israel is also seen as a useful way of deflecting charges that Hungary played a willing part in Hitler’s Final Solution and that Orban’s regime is anti-Semitic, notably in its campaigns against the Jewish-American financier and philanthropist George Soros.

In Czechia, supporting Israel is seen as a way of drawing a thick line under its Communist past and proving the country’s Atlanticist credentials. President Pavel, Prime Minister Petr Fiala, Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky and the leaders of both houses of parliament have all visited Israel to show their support since the Hamas attack.

Fiala recently said: “we must not forget who is the aggressor and who is the victim" in the conflict. His national security advisor, Tomas Pojar, is a former Czech ambassador to Israel and an unquestioning backer of the Jewish state.

Fiala, of the right-wing ODS party, has backed moving the country’s embassy to Jerusalem, but he has met resistance from Lipavasky of the liberal Pirates Party. Lipavsky was the first leading EU politician to visit Israel in October after the Hamas attack to pledge his support.

Czechia has already accepted that Jerusalem is already in practice the capital, breaking EU solidarity on not accepting Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the whole of the holy city following its victory in the 1967 war.