Benjamin Netanyahu becomes first Israeli PM to make historic Asia trip

Benjamin Netanyahu will become the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit Australia but faces protests Down Under


Afp February 20, 2017
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY: Benjamin Netanyahu will become the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit Australia on Wednesday on a historic Asia trip that also includes Singapore, but faces protests Down Under.

The right-wing Israeli leader will meet with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney.

But a group of 60 business leaders, academics, members of the clergy and former politicians signed a letter released Monday saying that Australia should not welcome Netanyahu, claiming his policies "provoke, intimidate and oppress" the Palestinians.

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"Israel continues to defy all United Nations calls for it to comply with international law in respect of its illegal settlement building, and its treatment of the indigenous Palestinian population," the letter reads.
Demonstrations are planned in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney during the visit.

The letter also calls on the Australian government to reassess its "one-sided" backing of Netanyahu's government.

Israel passed a new law this month that legalises dozens of Jewish outposts and thousands of settler homes built on private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

The international community sees the settlements as illegal and a major obstacle to peace in the region.

Netanyahu has also long wavered on his support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, that has been on the table for years backed by the US and other major powers, though President Donald Trump recently appeared to put Washington's commitment in doubt.

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Opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten said he would tell Netanyahu when they meet on Friday "that where settlement building is an obstacle to a two-state solution, it should be stopped".

Australia and Israel have traditionally enjoyed friendly ties but this is the first time that a serving Israeli prime minister has visited the country since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.

Netanyahu on Monday met with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the city-state, also on a first-time visit.

Israel played a key role in Singapore's history after the city-state became independent from Malaysia in 1965, helping to set up its armed forces after other countries declined. Netanyahu said both countries were "kindred spirits" being "small nations that have become in many areas global powers".

He is set to arrive in Australia on Wednesday for four days.

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