Israeli leaders off to Europe

PM in Poland, FM visits Hungary for International Holocaust Day events.

netanyahu 298 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
netanyahu 298 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was off to Poland, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to Hungary and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to Slovakia on Tuesday as Israel repays months of diplomatic support with a high-profile embrace.
"We are trying to hug those who hug us," one senior diplomatic source said, explaining what he described as a full-court press on Central Europe.
While each of the trips was timed to coincide with events commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the visits are also coupled with meetings in each of those countries with senior government leaders.
One diplomatic source said that while Israeli prime ministers have traveled to Auschwitz in the past, this was the first time the trip has been coupled with governmental meetings in Warsaw.
"The unique thing about Netanyahu's visit is that this is not only a visit to Auschwitz, but also a visit to Warsaw with an emphasis on the bilateral relations. Many Israeli leaders go to Auschwitz, and then come straight back to Israel without any bilateral talks. This bothers the Poles," the source said.
Poland, Hungary and Slovakia are three of the five Eastern European countries that have given Israel considerable diplomatic support inside the EU since they joined in the last decade. The other two countries are the Czech Republic and Romania. Ironically, these countries that - along with Germany - were responsible for so much Jewish suffering in the last century are today Israel's best friends in Europe.
"This type of visit to Poland is very important for the Poles," the senior diplomatic official said, "because it stresses not only the past, but also future relations."
This group of countries, he said, stood by Israel during last year's Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip; in rebutting the Goldstone Report; and in working against a recent Swedish resolution on the Middle East that would have called for east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Netanyahu left on Monday evening for Warsaw, where he will meet Polish President Lech Kaczynski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.
While he will go to the site of the Warsaw Ghetto for a ceremony on Tuesday, most of his day will be spent in discussions with the Polish leadership about regional and bilateral issues.
"This visit is a clear expression of the closeness of the relationship, and the importance that Israel attaches to the relationship," a senior source in the Prime Minister's Office said.
As an indication of the importance Netanyahu places on the relationship with Poland, it is worth noting that this will be only the ninth country he has visited since taking office 10 months ago. The other he has visited are Egypt (three times), the US and Germany (twice each), Jordan, Russia, France, Britain and Italy.
After spending a day in Warsaw, Netanyahu will travel to Cracow, and from there to Auschwitz to take part in Wednesday's ceremony on International Holocaust Remembrance Day marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp by Soviet troops. He will address the crowd there - one that is expected to include a number of European leaders - in Hebrew.
Lieberman, meanwhile, is scheduled to leave on Tuesday for a three-day trip to Hungary where he will meet Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, Foreign Minister Peter Balaz and other senior officials. On Wednesday he will take part in a ceremony in Budapest organized by the Jewish community.
Lieberman issued a statement saying that Hungary was a "friendly and important country" that voted with Israel recently against the Goldstone Report in the UN, and also voted against the Swedish resolution on Jerusalem inside the EU.
Ayalon, meanwhile, is scheduled to meet in Bratislava on Tuesday with the Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Laják, and to participate the next day in a ceremony commemorating Righteous Gentiles.