Italy’s new government is expected to remain as friendly to Israel – if not
friendlier – than the previous one, according to various assessments in
The new Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino – from the tiny
liberal Italian Radical Party – is considered to be as supportive of Israel as
former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, but unlike Berlusconi, is taken
seriously in the rest of Europe.
Bonino is a veteran Italian and European
parliamentarian who served as the EU commissioner responsible for consumer
policy, fisheries and the European Community Humanitarian Office from 1994 to
During that period she gave full backing to her deputy commissioner
who, amid much controversy, questioned whether European Union money transferred
to former Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat was being properly
Bonino, closely identified as a champion of human rights and
women’s rights issues, went to battle for Israel on numerous occasions inside
the European Parliament.
She also advocated making Israel a member of the
In a 2003 interview, Bonino – expressing a bit of criticism about
Europe’s Mideast policy – said the Europeans “expect a great deal from Israel,
but what they expect from Arafat is much less clear.”
She also said that
she would not offer Europe a role as mediator in the Middle East diplomatic
process “unless Europe opens the door for Israel to be truly integrated in the
international community. This could be done with our proposal to grant Israel
membership in the European Union.”
Bonino went to live and work in Cairo
following the September 11 attacks to better understand the Arab
In the 2003 interview, she said, “When you live in the Arab world,
you can see that contrary to appearances, the problem is not Muslim
fundamentalism. What’s more, it’s a fact that all the Islamic regimes have
“The problem,” she said, “is that when a government
takes repressive measures against the voices of democracy by closing
non-governmental and humanitarian organizations, and keeps moderate voices from
speaking, this brings on the success of the extremists.”
As for new
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, one diplomatic official said his ascendancy
to the position sends a “positive and constructive message to both Israelis and
According to the official, Letta – on the right flank of
his center-left Democratic Party – is a friend of Israel despite being a critic
of the settlements. Letta, the official said, comes with an “open
“He is neither anti-Israeli nor anti-Palestinian, and wants
really to see peace in the Middle East,” the official said.
and Bonino, as well as Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Angelino
Alfano, have developed good relationships with Israel’s diplomats in Rome, both
past and present.
Alfano, from Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party, is a
protégé of Berlusconi who – according to officials – shares his mentor’s strong
support for, and friendship with, Israel.
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