Netanyahu set to visit Australia in June

Netanyahu set to visit Australia in June

Incarceration and suicide of Australian-Israeli Mossad spy ‘Prisoner X’ likely to come up in talks with pro-Israel PM

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott (left) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 23, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash 90)
Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott (left) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 23, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash 90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Australia in June and meet his counterpart, the pro-Israel Tony Abbott, an Israeli political blog reported Monday.

According to political blogger Tal Schneider, Netanyahu will visit Colombia and Mexico in April, and, two months later, head to Australia for an official visit, accompanied by a large delegation.

It will be Netanyahu’s first official visit to Australia, a 24-hour flight away from Israel. Economics and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) has already visited the continent.

A government source would only confirm to The Times of Israel that Netanyahu and Abbott had met on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, with both leaders expressing interest in visiting each-others’ countries.

Netanyahu’s relationship with Abbott, who was elected as Australia’s prime minister in 2013, has been good.

When he assumed office, Abbott, who had previously served as the head of Australia’s opposition, said he would improve ties with Israel during his tenure.

The liberal party leader told reporters in August that the last two governments had not maintained Australia’s strong relationship with the Jewish state, a situation he would attempt to rectify.

“There’s been a bit of wobbling under the current government but I would expect our standard rock-solid friendship with Israel to resume should the coalition win the election,” he said, referring to the bloc of opposition parties seeking to unseat then-prime minister Kevin Rudd.

Abbott’s platform includes an unfriendly stance toward the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign aimed at Israel. His government has also pledged to take a harder line toward terror suspects and to crack down on extremists seeking to enter Australia, while making it easier for Israelis to receive entry visas.

“I’m a friend of Israel — always have been, always will be,” he said.

In July, Abbott stumped for a group of Jewish business leaders in Melbourne, praising the community for its acumen.

“Jewish people have succeeded because they’ve never taken anything for granted. Better products, new services, more effective salesmanship, and above everything, relentless curiosity have been the hallmarks of Jewish people in Australia, especially business people, and we have not held their success against them, but honored them for it,” he said, according to the Australian Jewish News.

Australia has historically been considered one of Israel’s strongest allies. However, a decision to abstain on, rather than vote against, a Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations last year led some to accuse Canberra of abandoning the Jewish state.

The relationship between the two states also took a hit in the wake of the “Prisoner X” affair, in which Israel was found to have held Australian-Israeli Mossad operative Ben Zygier in secret before he killed himself in prison. Australian officials demanded an explanation from Jerusalem and security ties between the two countries reportedly ground to a halt.

Zygier’s incarceration and suicide are likely to be among the topics under discussion during Netanyahu’s visit to Canberra.

AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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