(CNSNews.com) – On the first ever visit by an Israeli prime minister to Australia, Binyamin Netanyahu will this week be met both by heated protests and by the support of one of the world’s most pro-Israel governments.
Pro-Palestinian activists have organized rallies in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, protesting against the arrival Wednesday of what groups like “Coalition against Israeli Apartheid” and “Palestine Action Group Sydney” are calling “a war criminal.”
They are urging supporters to “protest the visit of a war criminal to Australia, as well as the Turnbull and Liberal government’s continued support for Israel’s illegal occupation and war crimes against the Palestinian people.”
A group of senior political, legal and religious figures put their names to a statement protesting his visit, and calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government to “take a more balanced role” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Mr. Netanyahu’s policies consistently aim to provoke, intimidate and oppress the Palestinian population,” it charged.
Australian governments have long backed Israel, but the current conservative one has gone further than most. It has shown itself willing to stand against the vast majority of the international community on the issue, rejecting for example the refrain that east Jerusalem is “occupied Palestinian territory.”
Australia invariably votes against anti-Israel measures at the United Nations, siding with just the U.S. and several small Pacific island nations in massively lopsided votes on resolutions condemning Israel.
After the Obama administration last December allowed a U.N. Security Council resolution harshly critical of Israel to pass, Australia alone (apart from Israel itself) voiced public opposition to the measure. It is not currently a member of the council and so did not have a vote, but indicated that had it been, it would have split with the administration and voted no.
Australia also declined in December to dispatch its foreign minister to a French-hosted Mideast conference shunned by Israel – but attended by then-Secretary of State John Kerry – and afterwards it distanced itself from some parts of a final communique.
Canberra’s support has not reached the level, however, of moving the Australian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (and it rejected a recent suggestion by Turnbull’s predecessor, Tony Abbott, that the country could demonstrate its support for Israel by “join[ing] any move by the Trump administration to move its embassy to Jerusalem.”)
Neither has the Turnbull government withdrawn its declared support for a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute – something President Trump during last week’s significant White House visit by Netanyahu chose not to endorse clearly.
Netanyahu’s visit is scheduled to run from Wednesday to Saturday, a relatively long foreign stay for Israeli prime ministers, who typically are reluctant to be abroad for long because of the security situation at home. (He will visit Singapore en route to Australia, also a first for an Israeli premier.)
Centenary of a breakthrough
Australia a century ago played an important historical role in the area that would become the modern-day State of Israel.
This year marks the centenary the Balfour Declaration, in which the British government voiced support for a Jewish homeland in the area known as Palestine.
But it is also the 100th anniversary of another crucial development relating to the area – the World War I capture of the city of Beer Sheva (Beersheba) from the Ottoman Turks, by Australian and New Zealand troops.
Six weeks later, Jerusalem was wrested from Ottoman control, laying further the groundwork for the ultimate rebirth of the State of Israel in 1948.
Netanyahu is expected to invite Turnbull to attend the centenary celebrations of the 1917 battle in Beer Sheva in October.
Australia has long served in Mideast peacekeeping and observation operations, and currently has troops in the Sinai, the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria, and southern Lebanon.
Before departing for Singapore and Australia, Netanyahu told his cabinet Sunday that the visit aimed to strengthen security, economic and other ties with the two “important countries,” and to “strengthen Israel’s standing in the world.”
Netanyahu also reported back to the ministers on his “historic” visit to Washington.
He said the longstanding bilateral alliance had become even stronger, both because of a personal connection between himself and Trump, and the growing “common view about the dangers and opportunities in the Middle East.”
At the end of his meeting with Trump, he recalled, the president “shook my hand and defined relations between Israel and the U.S. as ‘a new day.’”
“I must tell you that there is a new day here and it is a good day,” Netanyahu added.