Uganda president says he is ‘studying’ opening embassy in Jerusalem
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PM lays wreath where brother Yoni was shot in Entebbe rescue

Uganda president says he is ‘studying’ opening embassy in Jerusalem

Netanyahu tells Museveni he hopes the 2 countries will open embassies in each other’s capitals ‘in the near future’

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

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (R) and Uganda's First Lady Janet Museveni (2nd-R) pose for photo with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu at the State House in Entebbe, Uganda, February 3, 2020. (Sumy Sadurni/AFP)
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (R) and Uganda's First Lady Janet Museveni (2nd-R) pose for photo with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu at the State House in Entebbe, Uganda, February 3, 2020. (Sumy Sadurni/AFP)

ENTEBBE, Uganda — Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would look into the possibility of opening an embassy in Jerusalem, as the Israeli leader made a lightning trip to the African country.

Appearing alongside Museveni at a news conference, Netanyahu suggested that Israel would open an embassy in Kampala if Uganda were to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

“We’re studying that,” Museveni replied.

Netanyahu said he was hoping they could move ahead on the embassies “in the near future.”

Uganda does not currently have an embassy in Israel. The Israeli ambassador in neighboring Kenya also serves as ambassador to Kampala.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara are welcomed at Entebbe International Airport in Uganda on February 3, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Since US President Donald Trump’s recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the American embassy there in 2018, Netanyahu has called on other countries to follow suit.

While a number of leaders have expressed support for opening an embassy in Jerusalem, only the US and Guatemala currently have full missions in Jerusalem.

Moving an embassy to Jerusalem is highly contentious. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

A peace plan released by Trump last week — which has been rejected by the Palestinians — envisions outlying neighborhoods of East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Museveni has repeatedly said that Uganda supports a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue. During Netanyahu’s trip to Uganda in 2016, Museveni urged both sides to live “side by side in two states… in peace and with recognized borders.”

Museveni appeared to justify his willingness to open an embassy in Jerusalem based on his understanding that the west part of Jerusalem was granted to Israel in the 1947 UN Partition Plan.

In fact, the plan marked Jerusalem as an international city. Some states have recognized West Jerusalem, the only part of the city controlled by Israel until it captured East Jerusalem in 1967, as the Jewish state’s capital.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara meet with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his wife Janet Museveni in Entebbe, Uganda, February 3, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Netanyahu landed Monday at Entebbe International Airport, a few kilometers south of the capital Kampala. His El Al plane landed only several meters from the very terminal where the prime minister’s brother Yonatan was killed during a daring raid to liberate Jewish hostages, 43 years ago.

Netanyahu’s delegation, which included Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, was welcomed at the airport by Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda. The Israelis guests were treated to red carpet treatment, including an honor guard and the performance of a traditional local dance.

Israel has long courted African support. In exchange for its expertise in security and other fields, Israel wants African states to side with it at the UN General Assembly, which overwhelmingly recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state in 2012.

During the visit, Netanyahu also met with Sudanese leader Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and the two agreed to start normalizing ties.

“We agreed to begin cooperation that will lead to normalization of relations between the two countries,” Netanyahu tweeted. “History!”

In recent years, Netanyahu has pushed to improve ties with African countries that have long had cool relations with Israel over the conflict with the Palestinians. Sudan is keen to escape the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, as it struggles to rebuild its economy, following the popular uprising that toppled Omar al-Bashir last year.

Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu said that “at the end of today, we will have very good news for Israel.”

“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 told reporters before heading to Entebbe.

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.”

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

Reports in Israel in recent years have suggested it might normalize diplomatic relations with several Muslim countries in Africa. Israel renewed diplomatic relations with Guinea in 2016. After Netanyahu visited Chad for a renewal of ties in 2019, it was reported that Israel was working to formalize ties with Sudan.

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara lay wreaths at Entebbe Airport terminal, where Yonatan Netanyahu, the prime minister’s brother, was killed in 1976 (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Before leaving Entebbe on Monday, the prime minister and his wife laid a wreath at Entebbe Airport terminal, where his brother Yonatan was fatally struck by a bullet as he led Israeli commandos in a daring mission to rescue hijacked Israeli passengers in 1976.

Netanyahu said he missed his brother and is proud of him.

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 and agencies contributed to this report.

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