Netanyahu to Australia amid calls by former PMs to recognize 'Palestine'

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February 21, 2017 10:11

Netanyahu's visit will be the first ever by an Israeli prime minister to Australia.

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Netanyahu Singapore

PM Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Singapore's Jewish community before leaving to Australia. (photo credit:CHAIM ZACH / GPO)

SINGAPORE -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrapped up a 36-hour visit to Singapore on Tuesday that focused on economic and security issues and headed to Sydney, where he is expected to hear much more – at least from opposition politicians and the media – about the Palestinian issue.

While the visit to Singapore was decidedly low profile – his meeting with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong only appeared on page nine of The Straits Times, Singapore’s main English newspaper – a number anti-Netanyahu protests are expected during the prime minister’s stay in Australia.

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Singapore, according to diplomatic officials, did not want to overly highlight the visit so as not to antagonize neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia, Muslim-majority states not keen on Singapore’s close ties to Israel.

Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in Sydney on Wednesday morning, and to head back to Israel on Sunday.
Netanyahu meets with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (credit: REUTERS)

This will be the first-ever visit by an Israeli prime minister to Australia, considered one of Israel’s closest friends in the world. Though presidents Chaim Herzog visited in 1986 and Moshe Katsav in 2005, not even a foreign minister has visited since Yigal Allon in 1975.

The prime minister will have a full day of meetings soon after he arrives on Wednesday, including separate meetings with Governor- General Peter Cosgrove and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. He is also scheduled to hold a press conference with Turnbull, attend a luncheon with his Australian counterpart and Australian and Israeli businessmen, and take part in an event with Turnbull and members of the local Jewish community at the Great Synagogue in Sydney.

On Thursday Netanyahu is scheduled to meet again with Turnbull and other government ministers, and then visit the Moriah College Jewish day school. The next day he will meet opposition leader Bill Shorten from the Labor Party.

In recent days, several elders of the Labor Party, including former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Bob Hawke, called for Australia to recognize a Palestinian state.

Rudd, in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday, said, “My deepest fear is we are drifting toward the disintegration and death of an independent Palestinian state. This would be a tragedy for both the Palestinian and Israeli people,” he said.

“For Israel, the isolation of Palestine and the removal of the prospect of both land and statehood may well lead to the re-radicalization of the Palestinian people,” he added. “I deeply fear the possibility of a third Intifada. And so, the time has come for Australia to join countries like Sweden and the Holy See in formally recognizing the Palestinian state.”

His words appeared to be a response to comments US President Donald Trump made last week during his meeting in Washington with Netanyahu, during which he said he could live with any solution – two states or one state – that the sides would agree to.

“It is now critical for Israel’s closest friends and allies to send a clear message to both Tel Aviv and Washington that the abandonment of a two-state solution is unacceptable,” Rudd said.

Rudd’s comments, as well as similar calls by other party leaders, were blasted by Michael Danby, a Jewish MP from Melbourne.

In an interview with Sky News on Tuesday, Danby asked where the ex-Labor heads were “when the terrible things that are happening in Tibet are discussed? They never raise their heads. They want to try and provoke the Israeli prime minister and upset relations between him and the Labor Party prior to Netanyahu’s visit.”

Danby called Rudd and Hawke “heroes” who were “beating up on Israel while not discussing China’s oppression of the Tibetans and Uyghurs.

“I don’t think we should hyperventilate about this issue,” he said. “There are more important foreign policy issues.”


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