Netanyahu takes credit for ‘unprecedented growth’ in Israel’s foreign relations
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'A proud and assertive national policy'

Netanyahu takes credit for ‘unprecedented growth’ in Israel’s foreign relations

PM defends decision to nix meeting with German foreign minister over visitor’s refusal to cancel sit-down with leftist NGO

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen at the Israeli parliament during a vote on a law changing the structure of the new Israel Broadcast Corporation news division, at Knesset on April 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen at the Israeli parliament during a vote on a law changing the structure of the new Israel Broadcast Corporation news division, at Knesset on April 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted Tuesday of his diplomatic prowess as he explained his decision not to meet with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

“I am leading Israel’s foreign relations to unprecedented growth,” he told a group of young contestants in the International National Bible Quiz. “But I am doing so based on a proud and assertive national policy, not out of weakness or with a bowed head.”

Netanyahu told Gabriel he would not meet him if he went ahead with plans to meet with Breaking the Silence, a left-wing Israeli group critical of the IDF’s operations in the Palestinian territories. When Sigmar refused to cancel his meeting with the NGO, the prime minister made good on his threat.

In his speech, Netanyahu insisted the decision was consistent with government policy, which is to not “meet with diplomats who visit Israel and meet with organizations that slander IDF soldiers and seek to put our soldiers on trial as war criminals.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (4 from right) with International Bible Quiz Contestants in Jerusalem on April 25, 2017. (credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (4th from right) with International Bible Quiz Contestants in Jerusalem on April 25, 2017. ( Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

“Those same diplomats would never dream of doing this in the US or UK, or in any other place. Our soldiers are the basis of our existence. They guard us and we will guard them,” said Netanyahu, repeating his statement from earlier in the day.

Nevertheless, he added, “our relations with Germany are strong, important and will also continue as such.”

Sigmar made a similarly restrained statement following the cancellation, insisting that Germany was “committed to the friendship, partnership, and special relationship with Israel, and nothing will change that.”

Over the past several years, Netanyahu repeatedly tried to show that despite international criticism of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, Jerusalem is not diplomatically isolated.

Before departing for diplomatic visits to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in December, he claimed that “in complete contrast to what you have heard now and then, not only does Israel not suffer from political isolation, Israel is a courted country.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on April 25, 2017. (Amit Shabi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on April 25, 2017. (Amit Shabi/Flash90)

Last month, Nicaragua renewed diplomatic ties with the Jewish state, joining 158 other countries who have official ties with Israel.

Speaking at an annual memorial ceremony for late presidents and prime ministers on March 28, Netanyahu highlighted what he said was a dramatic shift in international attitudes toward Jerusalem. “Representatives of other countries see Israel as an economic, technological and military powerhouse and they want to be part of that. They are coming to Israel and saying that they want to boost relations,” he said.

But the issue of West Bank settlement construction has continued to provoke international backlash. The cabinet approval of a new settlement last month for the evacuees of the illegal Amona outpost sparked condemnation from allies including the UK, France, Germany and Jordan.

The matter has even been a point of contention with US President Donald Trump, who, despite being hailed by the Israeli right as a staunch friend, told Netanyahu that he’d like him to “hold back on settlements” during a joint press conference with the prime minister in February.

Disputes like the one with Gabriel have arisen in the past between visiting foreign officials and the Israel’s government.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meets with visiting German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at his residence on April 25, 2017 (Mark Neiman / GPO)
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meets with visiting German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at his residence on April 25, 2017 (Mark Neiman / GPO)

In February, Israel reprimanded the Belgian ambassador after the country’s prime minister, Charles Michel, met with Breaking The Silence and B’Tselem — another left-wing group — during his respective Israel visit, despite a direct request from Netanyahu not to do so.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson met with the anti-settlement NGO Peace Now during a March visit, but received no such public rebuke from the government.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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