Netanyahu to pioneer new diplomatic grounds in Latin America

Defying doomsayers concerned about Israel losing diplomatic clout, Benjamin Netanyahu is headed to Bogota, Argentina, and Mexico -- among other Latin American countries.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to depart for Latin America and the US on Sunday evening, marking the fifth time in some 15 months he will embark on ground-breaking trips to countries never before visited by a sitting Israeli prime minister.
His planned visit to Mexico on Wednesday is still on, despite that country’s powerful earthquake late Thursday.
“To see the prime minister in Latin America is truly a historic event,” said Modi Ephraim, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for South and Central America.
The visit is part of Netanyahu’s oft-stated goal of expanding and upgrading Israel’s ties with countries beyond North America and Europe, where diplomatic efforts have traditionally been focused.
Although Israel’s relations with Latin America go back to the pre-state days – when 13 Latin American countries were among the 33 in the world that voted for the 1947 Partition Plan at the UN – ties with the countries of the region have for decades not been a high priority for Jerusalem.
This started to change when Avigdor Liberman became foreign minister in 2009, and within months took a trip to Latin America, where he visited Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Colombia. Ephraim said that in recent years there has been a concentrated effort to strengthen the diplomatic, strategic and economic ties with the region.
While Israeli presidents and foreign ministers have visited the area, Netanyahu will be the first serving prime minister to do so, going to Argentina, Colombia and Mexico.
Since June 2016, he has been the first sitting Israeli prime minister to visit the following countries: Uganda. Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Singapore, Australia and Liberia.
According to the Foreign Ministry, the goals of his visit are to express Israel’s partnership and commitment to its Latin American allies, strengthen relations with the three countries he is visiting, and nurture a better understanding of Israel’s political and security challenges.
In addition, Netanyahu hopes to strengthen Israel’s activities with regional organizations, expand economic ties, and enhance relations with the local Jewish communities.
A number of bilateral agreements covering a wide array of issues are to be signed, and some 30 Israeli businesspeople will be joining him.
The prime minister is scheduled to arrive in Argentina on Monday for a day-and-a half visit during which he will meet with President Mauricio Macri, open an economic forum, take part in separate ceremonies commemorating the terrorist attacks against the Israeli Embassy there in 1992 and the AMIA Jewish community center building in 1994, and participate in an event with the Jewish community.
With some 200,000 Jews, Argentina has the sixth-largest Jewish population in the world, and the largest in Latin America.
Israel’s relationship with Argentina improved dramatically in 2015 with the election of the center-right Macri. Since then, he and Paraguay’s President Horacio Cartes have spearheaded Israel’s efforts to expand its presence in South America.
From Argentina, Netanyahu on Wednesday will travel to Bogota, Colombia, for a visit of just a few hours to, as Ephraim said, show appreciation for that country’s long-time friendship with Israel. For years Colombia, with which Israel has had a strong security relationship, was Israel’s main ally in South America.
Netanyahu will meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has been in Israel on a number of occasions, the last time being in 2015. Colombia was the only South American country that did not follow Brazil’s lead in 2010 and 2011 and recognize the Palestinian Authority as a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu will fly from Bogota to Mexico City. In a day of meetings there on Thursday, he will meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto, open a business conference, and attend an event with the Jewish community, which numbers some 40,000 people.
On Friday, Netanyahu will fly to New York to deliver an address on Tuesday, September 19, at the United Nations. Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said that a meeting with Trump was a near certainty, though the time and location have not been set.
Netanyahu will meet with a number of world leaders on the sidelines of the UN meeting, including the president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela.
The prime minister is scheduled to leave New York on September 19, soon after delivering his UN address, in order to return to Israel hours before the start of Rosh Hashana the next day.