Italy’s new government is expected to remain as friendly to Israel – if not friendlier – than the previous one, according to various assessments in Jerusalem.

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 1999.

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 used.

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 EU.

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 world.

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 failed miserably.”

“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 Palestinians.”

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 approach.”

“He is neither anti-Israeli nor anti-Palestinian, and wants really to see peace in the Middle East,” the official said.

Both Letta 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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