Warm Winds from Rome (Extract)

Extract of an article in Issue 7, July 21, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. In a move that signals a warming of relations between Rome and Jerusalem, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini will make an official visit to Israel in July, according to sources in his ministry. Frattini was appointed by Silvio Berlusconi who became prime minister following the defeat of Romano Prodi's center-left coalition in elections in April. Known for his sympathetic attitude towards Israel, Berlusconi promised during his election campaign to turn Italy into Israel's "best friend in Europe." Berlusconi himself is expected to visit Jerusalem in November. Frattini, who has been in the post since May 8, will also be visiting Ramallah and Cairo during the July 8-9 trip, and is likely to propose tightening bilateral relations with Israel, according to the sources. This would be a sharp departure from the stance of his predecessor, Massimo D'Alema, who maintained an ambivalent policy toward Israel, recognizing Israel's right to defend itself while urging it to talk to Hamas; D'Alema even had his picture taken arm in arm with a Hizballah minister after the 2006 Second Lebanon War. In contrast, Frattini, in his previous position as European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, demanded and succeeded in getting Hamas included in the European Union's list of terrorist organizations. The trip to Israel will be Frattini's first bilateral visit as minister, with the exception of a stopover of a few hours in Ankara on his way to a G8 meet in Japan. Frattini met Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni at a meeting in Luxembourg, in June, at which the EU upgraded reciprocal relations with Israel, and he proposed that Italy and Israel do the same. "For the new Italian government, Israel is a key partner at all political, economic and cultural levels," Frattini told Livni. During his visit he is expected to set up a mechanism for holding annual summits of the prime ministers, foreign ministers and other relevant cabinet ministers of the two countries in a "bilateral strategic dialogue" similar to the arrangements Rome already has with Algeria, Egypt and Turkey. Italy is already Israel's fourth largest trade partner with $2.3 billion in exports to Israel and $1.25 billion in imports in 2007 - a 25 percent increase over the previous year. A bilateral agreement is expected to bolster trade even further and strengthen cultural and academic ties. Extract of an article in Issue 7, July 21, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.