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Hungary set to become first EU country to move its embassy to Jerusalem

Move reported in Israeli press as bid to help Netanyahu shift focus away from internal political woes
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban meeting Benjamin Netanyahu (Social Media)

Hungary is set to move its embassy to Jerusalem next month in a major break with other European Union countries.

The move, first reported in the Israeli press on Friday, will give beleaguered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a much-needed diplomatic victory against a backdrop of growing domestic political discord.

Prime Minister Victor Orban is known for his close relationship with Netanyahu and the two sides have only in recent days finalised the deal.

The EU has long opposed such moves without a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

On Wednesday Israeli police violently dispersed crowds as thousands marched in different cities to protest against a controversial government plan to overhaul the judicial system, amid growing political turmoil.

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Crowds were protesting against a government plan that would give parliament the power to override the Supreme Court through a simple majority vote, and de facto control over court nominees. 

The protests have become a major headache for Netanyahu and threaten to derail his domestic political agenda.

Last week a rampage by Israeli settlers left at least one Palestinian dead and nearly 400 wounded in attacks on Huwwara and other West Bank towns and villages. 

Rights groups urge US to ban Israel's Smotrich over call to 'wipe out' Huwwara
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Settlers completely burnt down at least 35 homes and 40 others were partially damaged.

Many of the buildings were set on fire while their Palestinian inhabitants sheltered inside.

More than 100 cars were burnt or otherwise destroyed. 

Yonatan Touval, an analyst at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies (Mitvim), told Middle East Eye earlier this week that the ongoing protests and tensions in the West Bank are, internationally at least, making it very difficult for Netanyahu "to portray himself as a stable and solid leader".

The move by Hungary looks set to bring back a degree of diplomatic momentum and give the Israeli prime minister something else to talk about, however limited. 

Netanyahu, like Orban, has had an increasingly controversial career, with both premiers embroiled in corruption allegations, accused of whipping up nationalist sentiments and clamping down on the independence of the judiciary. 

Touval believes that with a planned state visit to the UAE on hold and with the US administration yet to formally invite Netanyahu for a state visit, the Israeli leader is in a “very precarious situation” struggling to shift the conversation away from “domestic turmoil".

“These protests are highlighting Netanyahu’s situation and reflecting his extremist agenda while making it clear to his counterparts around the world that he has no popular backing,” added Touval.

Israeli opposition organisations and activists on Wednesday called on the US government to impose sanctions on Netanyahu in order to stop the country from "sliding into a full dictatorship".

In an open letter more than 700 activists called on the Biden administration to initiate the Global Magnitsky sanctions, which target foreign government officials deemed as corrupt or human rights offenders.

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