(photo credit: REUTERS)
Despite ongoing police investigations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned visit to Singapore and Australia is “very much still on,” an Australian official said on Wednesday.
Planning for the late February visit is proceeding apace, according to the official.
Netanyahu will be the first sitting Israeli prime minister to visit Australia – which has given the Jewish state strong diplomatic support for years – as well as to Singapore, with whom Israel has a very robust military relationship.
However, the planned third leg of the trip – a visit to Fiji and participation in a summit of leaders of Pacific island states there – has been canceled, with diplomatic officials saying that adding the Fiji leg would be “too long and too complicated” from a security point of view.
It is well understood in Jerusalem that a cancellation of Netanyahu’s visit to Australia would not be looked upon kindly in Canberra given that three high level visits to the country have been canceled over the last three years.
Netanyahu canceled a planned trip there in 2014 because of Operation Protective Edge; foreign minister Avigdor Liberman then canceled a visit there that same year; and President Reuven Rivlin scratched a trip there last year, opting instead to go to Russia.
It has been made clear to Israel that while there would be some understanding for the cancellation of the trip for a genuine reason, tolerance for these cancellations is eroding. The trip is important for the Australians because it is an acknowledgment and recognition by Israel of the strong political and diplomatic support Australia gives Israel in international forums.
The trip is also deemed as very significant to the Jewish community in the country which wants to feel that its strong support for Israel is not taken for granted.
The current government of Malcolm Turnbull is extremely supportive of Israel and would like the visit to take place on its watch to reap domestic political support from the Jewish community and other pro-Israel supporters in the country.
Australia’s diplomatic support was on display this week when not only did it only send a low-level delegation to the Paris Mideast conference, but it also distanced itself from the conclusions afterward.
A representative of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the Australian presence at the conference “does not mean we agree with every element of the final statement.
“The most important priority must be a resumption of direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians for a two-state solution as soon as possible.”
Turnbull was the only world leader, with the exception of Netanyahu, to publicly speak out against UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which was adopted in December, saying it was “one sided” and “deeply unsettling.”
Netanyahu is scheduled to leave Saturday night, February 18, and fly to Singapore, arriving Sunday evening.
He is then slated to spend Monday in Singapore, a reciprocal visit to that made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last year, before flying the next day to Sydney.
Netanyahu is scheduled to fly back to Israel on Saturday night, February 25.
During those five days, he also will travel to Melbourne, but not stay there overnight. The bulk of his meetings with government officials will be held in Sydney.