Heading to Uganda for 1-day trip, PM hopes to bring back ‘very good news’

In Entebbe, Netanyahu to meet with president, other leaders whose identities are kept under wraps; Mossad chief said to join delegation

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife, Sara (L) speak with reporters at Ben Gurion Airport, February 3, 2020 (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife, Sara (L) speak with reporters at Ben Gurion Airport, February 3, 2020 (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said he hoped to bring back “very good news” as he headed to Entebbe, Uganda, for a one-day visit.

“This is my fifth trip to Africa in the last three and a half years,” Netanyahu told reporters as he boarded his plane. “Israel is returning to Africa, big time. Africa already returned to Israel. These are relations that are very important, in the diplomatic, economic and security areas, and many other realms.”

He said that he hoped to strengthen ties with Uganda, “and I hope that at the end of today, we will have very good news for Israel.”

In Entebbe, Netanyahu was set to meet with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, as well as with what Israeli officials called “regional leaders.” The military censor prohibited the publication of more details about the scheduled meetings, lest they be canceled at the last minute.

Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen joined the premier’s delegation, Channel 13 reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with leaders from Africa, in Entebbe, Uganda, on July 4, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The premier was also reportedly working to get the Ugandan government to commit to opening an embassy in Jerusalem. Currently, the African nation does not have an embassy in Israel.

A Ugandan government spokesman confirmed the trip and said it had been scheduled at Netanyahu’s request.

In the past, Netanyahu has courted Uganda as a possible “third country” to which he could deport at least a portion of the tens of thousands of African migrants currently residing in Israel. The plan fell apart in 2018 amid concerns by refugee activists that the migrants would be endangered if they were sent to Uganda. Appearing to hint at the possibility that the measure was back on the table, Netanyahu said at a campaign event last month that his government was working to “remove two-thirds of the [of the migrants] soon.”

The presence of the primarily Sudanese and Eritrean migrants in Israel has become a divisive political issue. While the migrants say they are refugees fleeing conflict or persecution, Israel views them as job-seekers who threaten the Jewish character of the state. Israel’s earlier deportation policy, which offered each migrant $3,500 and a plane ticket to other African countries, had been condemned by Israeli activists and the United Nations as chaotic, poorly executed, and unsafe.

African migrants and their supporters demonstrate in Jerusalem on April 4, 2018, against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cancellation of an agreement with the UN aimed at avoiding forced deportations. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)

In December, the representative of the United Nations refugee agency in Israel urged Netanyahu to reconsider a UN proposal to resettle roughly half of the country’s African migrants.

The UN agreement would see roughly 16,250 African migrants currently in Israel — mainly from Sudan and Eritrea — resettled in developing Western countries while a similar number would remain in Israel and receive temporary residency. Under the agreement, most of those who would leave would be unmarried men, while families, women and children would generally stay.

The premier had accepted the deal in 2018, only to change his mind 24 hours later under pressure from his right-wing coalition partners.

Netanyahu last visited Uganda in 2016 to kick off a tour of four African countries. In Entebbe, he marked the 40th anniversary of Israel’s 1976 legendary operation to rescue over 100 hostages from terrorist hijackers.

The raid, during which his brother Yonatan was killed, proved to the world that Jews were “powerless no more,” Netanyahu said at the time. It “was a watershed moment for my people.”

Standing in the same airfield where Yonatan died, Netanyahu spoke of the bravery shown by his brother, who charged to the head of the force that landed in the airport to attack the terrorists.

“Entebbe is always with me, in my thoughts, my consciousness and deep in my heart,” the prime minister said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech after his arrival at Entebbe airport, Uganda, Monday, July 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Stephen Wandera)

On Monday, Netanyahu will land at and take off from the same airport, where he is scheduled to participate in a memorial ceremony.

Monday’s Uganda trip comes on the heels of high-profile visits by Netanyahu to the United States and Russia, just weeks before the March 2 elections in Israel.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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