Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who speaks often about behind-the-scenes cooperation taking place between Israel and many countries in the region, hinted Sunday night that the time has come to expect that some of those contacts come out into the open.
Netanyahu, speaking to the annual meeting in Jerusalem of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Israel and its supporters should not be shy about calling upon states around the world who want and have good relations with Israel, to change their voting patterns against Israel in international forums.
Turning to the countries of the Middle East, he said there has been no place where there has been a greater shift toward Israel than in the region.
“Major Arab countries are changing their view of Israel,” he said. “They don’t see Israel anymore as its enemy, but they see Israel as their ally, especially in the battle against militant Islam and its two fountainheads, the militant Islamists led by Iran, and the militant Islamists led by Daesh [Islamic State].”
This situation, Netanyahu said, “is something that is forging new ties, many discrete, some of them are open, and there too we should expect – ask – to see a change.”
Netanyahu said the Conference of Presidents was aware of this situation, having just visited over the last week both Turkey and Egypt, where they met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
In a related development, government officials denied a story that appeared Sunday in the Arab press claiming that Sisi canceled a planned visit by Netanyahu following comments made by National Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz earlier this month that Egypt flooded Hamas tunnels “due to Israel’s request.”
“There was never such a planned visit,” one official said.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu will be traveling with a number of his cabinet ministers to Berlin on Monday for the sixth government-to-government meeting between the countries.
Netanyahu will be joined by Steinitz, Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Construction Minister Yoav Galant, PMO Director-General Eli Groner and Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold.
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel twice, once as part of the wider joint cabinet meeting, and also for private discussions.
One issue likely to be addressed will be the “reset” in relations between Israel and the EU, following the conversation on Friday between Netanyahu and EU Foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Netanyahu addressed this issue at the weekly cabinet meeting, saying the two sides have “agreed to put relations between us back on track.”
Netanyahu said Mogherini told him the EU was opposed to any boycott of Israel, and the EU action regarding the labeling of settlement goods was “non-binding,” and did “not reflect their position regarding the final borders of the State of Israel, which can be determined – this is what she said – only in direct negotiations between the sides.”
Netanyahu said Israel, “as a representative of democratic values, is entitled to receive support from Europe and not just criticism.”
He said there will obviously continue to be points of friction with the EU, and with specific countries within the EU. But, he said, the fact Mogherini “has come out strongly against BDS and against economic sanctions against Israel, is – of course – a step in the right direction.”
Netanyahu also informed the cabinet that an advance team for US Vice President Joe Biden came to Israel Sunday to plan a trip in the coming weeks. “A date for the visit has yet to be determined, but it is clear that Vice President Biden is a welcome guest in Israel anytime he decides to come here.”
Biden last visited Israel in 2010, for a visit that was clouded by announcement of new construction in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in northern Jerusalem, beyond the Green Line.
Before flying to Berlin, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, who arrived on Saturday for a four-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This is her first visit as UN envoy, and on Sunday she visited Yad Vashem.
The State Department said Power is in the region to discuss a range of regional and bilateral issues, “including the United States and Israel’s shared security concerns and close cooperation, prospects for a two-state solution and the importance of UN humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in the region.”
Power met on Saturday in Ramallah with PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, and also with a group of Al-Quds University students.
Following her meeting with Netanyahu, she is scheduled to visit the Yad b’Yad school in Jerusalem, and deliver remarks at the Israel Middle East Model UN Conference at the American International School in Even Yehuda.
Netanyahu will also hold separate meetings with the visiting foreign ministers from Iceland and Norway.