Peripatetic PM Wings to Singapore, Australia

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (2nd R) at the weekly cabinet meeting in Yerushalayim on Sunday, before departing for Singapore. (Reuters/Dan Balilty/Pool)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took to the skies again on Sunday for a trip to Singapore and Australia, marking the first time an incumbent Israeli prime minister has ever visited these long-time friends of Israel.

It was the third consecutive week that Netanyahu has flown abroad: two weeks ago he was in Britain for meetings with his counterpart, PM Theresa May, and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson; then came the summit with President Donald Trump in Washington.

As usual, the visits will be a mix of business and diplomacy. Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that part of the purpose of the trip is to “open new markets.”

On Monday morning, Netanyahu arrives in Singapore and a meeting at the presidential palace with President Tony Tan Keng Yam. Then he’ll see Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, reciprocating for the latter’s visit to Yerushalayim, a first by a Singaporean prime minister to Israel.

At a speech Lee gave at Hebrew University at the time, he mentioned that when Singapore became independent in 1965, the IDF “helped us to develop the Singapore Armed Forces,” and that defense ties have continued ever since.

On the itinerary is Singapore’s Magen Avot Synagogue, founded in 1878, and a meeting with representatives of the Jewish community, which numbers approximately 2,500.

In Australia, the diplomacy will likely be more delicate. A report that he might not be able to make the trip because of scheduling conflicts raised concerns that the Australians might resent being taken for granted. In February of last year, President Reuven Rivlin canceled a scheduled visit to Australia in favor of one to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2015, Netanyahu himself canceled, at short notice, a planned visit to Australia because of Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.

In addition, opposition has been voiced to Netanyahu’s appearance. A joint statement issued by 60 Australians — business and religious leaders, lawyers, academics, entertainers and former politicians — said that the Israeli should not be welcomed in their country because his policies “provoke, intimidate and oppress” the Palestinians, reported the The Sydney Morning Herald. Demonstrations against him are planned for Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

However, the government has stood behind Israel in recent days. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia would have voted against the recent U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel, despite the U.S. abstention.

Netanyahu will hold a meeting with Israeli and Australian businessmen and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Netanyahu will spend the rest of the week in Australia, returning to Israel on Sunday and arriving back home early Monday morning.

In early 2014, Bishop refused to go along with the European consensus that Israeli communities in Yehudah and Shomron are illegal. “I don’t want to prejudge the fundamental issues in the peace negotiations,” Bishop told The Times of Israel.

“I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal,” she said.