Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said recent signs of a diplomatic flourishing for Israel were occurring without Jerusalem having to make any concessions on West Bank settlements, as he celebrated the visit of Chad’s leader after decades of ruptured ties.
Israel has also recently ramped up contacts with a number of Arab countries that, until recently, had shunned any appearance of even informal ties with the Jewish state. Reports Sunday indicated Israel was working toward establishing diplomatic channels with Sudan and Bahrain.
Most Arab countries insist Israel must reach a peace deal with the Palestinians before any normalization can take place. But in recent years attitudes in some parts of the region have seemingly shifted, and Netanyahu said Israel was forging ahead with the ties despite West Bank settlements continuing to grow and peace talks being stagnant.
“We are opening up the world,” he told his Likud faction in public remarks Monday. “Israel is enjoying unprecedented diplomatic flourishing, including in the Arab world… and the Muslim world.”
Netanyahu stressed that previous leaders had attempted to strengthen Israel’s international standing with “dangerous concessions, including uprooting communities,” referring to the 2005 disengagement plan by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, in which all settlements in the Gaza Strip were dismantled.
“That hasn’t happened — and won’t happen — with me,” Netanyahu continued. “The exact opposite is happening. We are getting the world’s support, including by many in the Arab world, through our strong and steadfast standing.
“We believe in peace out of strength, we believe in alliances born out of Israel’s value as a technological, financial, defense and intelligence powerhouse,” he added. “That’s what we will continue doing, and that’s also how we’ll achieve peace.”
Netanyahu opened his public remarks by hailing visiting Czech President Milos Zeman, for pledging to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem; and Chadian President Idriss Déby, who, on Sunday, told Israeli leaders in Jerusalem that he wishes to restore diplomatic relations.
The premier said that Déby had invited him to visit Chad and that he had “happily” accepted the invitation.
Déby’s historic visit is part of a campaign to lay the groundwork for normalizing ties with the Muslim-majority countries of Sudan, Mali and Niger, according to a report on Israel’s Channel 10 News Sunday.
Other reports said Israel was also working to normalize relations with Bahrain, as Jerusalem ramps up its drive to forge more open relations with the Arab world amid shifting alliances in the Middle East driven by shared concerns over Iran.
Netanyahu has for years spoken about the warming of ties between Israel and the Arab world, citing not only Iran as a common enemy, but also many countries’ interest in cooperating with Israel on security and defense matters, as well as Israel’s growing high-tech industry.
Oman last month welcomed the Israeli premier in a surprise visit, an apparent sign of Israeli progress in improving ties with the Gulf states.
At a security conference in Bahrain following the visit, Omani foreign minister also offered rare words of support for the Jewish state.
“Israel is a state present in the region, and we all understand this. The world is also aware of this fact, and maybe it is time for Israel to be treated the same and also bear the same obligations,” Yussef bin Alawi bin Abdullah said, according to Reuters.
During a press conference with Déby on Sunday, Netanyahu remarked that “there will be more such visits in Arab countries very soon,” without providing details.
Earlier Monday, during his visit to Israel, Czech President Zeman expressed skepticism over the possibility of a two-state solution. He told President Reuven Rivlin he was interested in learning more about alternative approaches to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Zeman, an outspoken supporter of Israel, arrived on Sunday evening for a three-day state visit, during which he will inaugurate the so-called “Czech House” in Jerusalem, an office space billed by Prague as a “first step” toward moving the country’s embassy to the city.
In April, Zeman announced the beginning of a process that will move the country’s diplomatic mission from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, though it remains unclear if and when Prague will actually open an embassy in the holy city.
Raphael Ahren and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.