Netanyahu to face protests on Australia state visit
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Netanyahu to face protests on Australia state visit

PM arrives in Singapore on first leg of trip aimed at strengthening economic and security ties with both countries

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, set off for a week-long state visit to Singapore and Australia, February 19, 2017. (GPO/Haim Zach)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, set off for a week-long state visit to Singapore and Australia, February 19, 2017. (GPO/Haim Zach)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to face a series of protests during a state visit to Australia this week, after a first stop in Singapore. He’ll be the first-ever sitting Israeli leader to visit these countries.

Netanyahu landed in Singapore overnight Sunday-Monday where he is expected to stay for two days before heading off to Australia.

“We will strengthen security, economic and other ties with these countries,” he said at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting before he left the country.

Over 60 prominent Australians signed an open letter opposing Netanyahu’s state visit, citing the Israeli government’s policies toward the Palestinians, and demonstrations are planned for Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

“It is time for the suffering of the Palestinian people to stop and for Australia to take a more balanced role in supporting the application of international law and not supporting Mr Netanyahu and his policies,” the signatories — including former politicians, legal professionals and clergy — wrote.

“Mr Netanyahu’s policies consistently aim to provoke, intimidate and oppress the Palestinian population which increase that imbalance [of power], thus taking Israel irretrievably further from peace. These policies are inconsistent with Australian values and beliefs and we should not welcome him here,” they added. Many of the signatories appear to be pro-Palestinian activists and the letter was made available by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.

During his two-day visit to Singapore, Netanyahu will visit Istana, the small city-state’s presidential residence, for meetings with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

Last year, Lee became the first Singaporean prime minister to visit Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong seen during the welcome ceremony at the Prime Minister office in Jerusalem on April 19, 2016. (Haim Zach / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong seen during the welcome ceremony at the Prime Minister office in Jerusalem on April 19, 2016. (Haim Zach / GPO)

After lunch with the prime minister and Singapore’s national security minister, Teo Chee Hean, Netanyahu is scheduled to visit the Maghain Aboth synagogue, one of the country’s two functioning Jewish houses of worship.

Israel-Singapore relations have long been solid, but have recently grown even closer.

“There is a deep friendship between Israel and Singapore. We have so much in common. We are small nations that leave a very large imprint on the world scene,” Netanyahu told Lee in April during his visit to Jerusalem.

Lee said that Israel is the second-largest contributor of foreign direct investments in Singapore from the Middle East. “We admire your technical prowess and ecosystem. You have the highest number of scientists, technicians, technologists, engineers per capita in the world. You have the third highest number of patents per capita, and I know that many Singaporean firms are interested in doing business with you, investing in Israel, as some have already done.”

On Wednesday, Netanyahu will arrive in Sydney, Australia, where he will meet with Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with whom he is set to hold a joint press conference.

“In Australia I will, together with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, hold a meeting with businesspeople from both countries in order to increase trade between Israel and Australia,” Netanyahu said at the cabinet. “What we are doing to strengthen Israel’s standing in the world,” he added, “is to open new markets.”

After the meeting with Israeli and Australian businesspeople, the prime minister and his delegation are scheduled to visit the Great Synagogue of Sydney.

On Thursday, Netanyahu will again meet with Turnbull, who will be joined by his cabinet, at Sydney’s Commonwealth Parliament Offices, where the government convenes when it is not in the capital. (Netanyahu will not visit Canberra.)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in New York, on September 21, 2016 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in New York, on September 21, 2016 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The two prime ministers will then together visit Moriah College, a Modern Orthodox school founded in 1942.

On Friday, Netanyahu will meet the premier of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian. He will conclude his visit with a sit-down with Bill Shorten, the leader of the Australian opposition.

Australia is arguably Israel’s best friend on the international stage after the United States. In recent years, Canberra has been unafraid to defy international consensus to shield the Jewish state from criticism of its settlement policy.

In December, Australia was the only country in the world, besides Israel, to denounce UN Security Council Resolution 2334. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop declared Australia would have likely opposed the text and Turnbull later attacked it as “one-sided” and “deeply unsettling.”

Canberra first distinguished itself from the rest of the world in early 2014, when Bishop, in an interview with The Times of Israel, refused to call Israeli settlements illegal. “I don’t want to prejudge the fundamental issues in the peace negotiations,” Bishop said at the time.

Asked whether she agrees or disagrees with the near-universal view that Israeli settlements anywhere beyond the 1967 lines are illegal under international law, she replied: “I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal.”

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