Skipping corruption hearing, Romania leader makes surprise visit to Israel

Skipping corruption hearing, Romania leader makes surprise visit to Israel

Netanyahu invited Liviu Dragnea, country’s most powerful politician, after he announced intention to move embassy to Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets on April 26, 2018 with Romanian Chamber of Deputies President Liviu Dragnea (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets on April 26, 2018 with Romanian Chamber of Deputies President Liviu Dragnea (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)

Romania’s most powerful politician missed a Wednesday hearing on corruption charges — by going on a surprise visit to Israel at the invitation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hosting Liviu Dragnea on Thursday, Netanyahu told him, “Thank you for everything you are doing to strengthen our friendship. It is a good friendship. It is getting stronger all the time.”

Earlier this month, Dragnea, chairman of the Social Democratic Party, which effectively runs Romania’s government, said Bucharest is ready to follow the US and move its embassy to Jerusalem.

However, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who is from the center-right and has frequently clashed with the government, protested that he had not been informed and emphasized that any such move could only happen after Israel and the Palestinians had agreed on the status of Jerusalem among themselves.

Romanian media had previously reported that Netanyahu had invited Dragnea to visit Israel “toward the end of the month” and welcomed his stance on the embassy question.

Dragnea is charged in Romania with official misconduct. He was expected to attend court Wednesday, but Parliament confirmed just as the hearing began that he was in Israel at Netanyahu’s invitation.

He is accused of intervening to keep two women on the payroll of a family welfare agency, even though they were employed by the party. He denies wrongdoing.

Dragnea, who effectively controls the government, can’t be prime minister due to a 2016 conviction for vote-rigging. The court scheduled another hearing for May 15.

Romanian premier Viorica Dancila also began a two-day visit to Israel Wednesday. Netanyahu thanked her for her government’s stand on possibly moving Romania’s embassy to Jerusalem.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office welcomed the “Romanian government’s approval of a draft decision on initiating the transfer of the Romanian Embassy to Jerusalem.”

The PMO said the two “discussed bilateral issues, strengthening cooperation and the holding of joint projects in — inter alia — security, health, technology and cyber defense.”

Dancila and Netanyahu also agreed to hold a meeting between Israeli and Romanian ministers in Romania “in the coming months,” it added.

Dancila visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum after meeting Netanyahu. She is scheduled to meet with President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday and visit the Western Wall.

Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila (L) lays a wreath at the Hall of Remembrance on April 25, 2018, during her visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

Caught in the middle of the argument between Dragnea and Iohannis, Dancila has sought to explain that her government was trying simply to create a “platform for discussions” on the possible transfer of the embassy.

Dragnea “is looking for recognition on an international level and to present himself as a privileged interlocutor with Israel and the US within Romania,” political analyst Radu Magdin told AFP.

Benjamin Netanyahu (R) holds a joint press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in Jerusalem on March 7, 2016. Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Romania was the only country in the former communist bloc to maintain relations with Israel after the Six Day War in 1967.

Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu also maintained close ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization under Yasser Arafat.

Romania abstained on a United Nations General Assembly Resolution that condemned the US administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy there. The Romanian Foreign Ministry said the resolution — which was adopted with 128 “yes” votes, 9 “no” votes and 35 abstentions — “comes at a time when caution should be exercised.”

At the time, Netanyahu called Iohannis to thank him for the abstention.

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