JERUSALEM — Israel and Hungary signed an agreement Monday for their first exchange of diplomats in 20 years, continuing a general thaw in relations between the Israelis and the nations of Eastern Europe.
The accord, signed in Bern, Switzerland, fell short of Israel's desire to re-establish full diplomatic ties with the Budapest regime. It provides for Israeli and Hungarian "interest sections" in each other's country, with envoys assigned to represent the interests of each without holding the rank implied by formal relations and without an actual embassy.
Diplomatic ties were broken off by Hungary in June, 1967, in the aftermath of the Six-Day War.
Monday's agreement was similar to one reached between Israel and Poland last October to exchange interest sections. Romania is the only East Bloc country to have full diplomatic relations with Israel.
A joint communique made public here and in Budapest said the new agreement was reached "with the intention of promoting economic, commercial, cultural and human relations, and in order to facilitate consular matters between their two countries."
A Foreign Ministry spokesman noted that Hungary has the second-largest Jewish population in Eastern Europe after the Soviet Union.
The spokesman said that an improved Hungarian attitude toward Israel and the Jewish community was evident in the decision to allow the World Jewish Congress to hold its most recent meeting in Budapest in May.
The rapprochement between Israel and Hungary followed the July visit to Israel of an official delegation from the Soviet Union, the first such visit since the 1967 war.
Ostensibly, the official purpose of the visit was to check on land here belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church and to renew the passports of about 2,000 Soviet citizens living here, most of them non-Jewish women married to Jewish or Arab men.
A First Step
But, in a broader sense, the visit was regarded by many in Israel as the first step on the way to re-establishing relations between Moscow and Jerusalem.
The effort to repair relations with the Soviet Union is widely believed to be the result largely of efforts by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who hopes to convene an international conference on the Middle East with the participation of the major powers despite strong opposition from Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
In the last two weeks, Soviet authorities have reportedly told nine refuseniks--Soviet Jews who have been refused permission to emigrate--that they will soon be given permission to leave. Loosening the strictures on Jewish emigration has long been demanded by Israel as a condition for improving relations with the Soviet Union.
After Monday's Hungarian accord, sources here said that Israel's interests section in Budapest will be officially attached to the Swiss Embassy, which has been looking after Israeli interests in the absence of Israeli diplomats. Hungary's interests section will be attached to the Swedish Embassy in Tel Aviv.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry official is leaving for Hungary soon to choose a site for the interests section there, according to Israel radio, although the two countries have picked no date for physically setting up the new offices.