Netanyahu lands in Australia in first visit by Israeli premier

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed in Australia on Wednesday in his second and final stop of a weeklong trip, marking the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister has made an official visit Down Under.

After a two-day visit to Singapore, Netanyahu arrived in Sydney, where he was greeted at the airport by Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

Upon landing, Netanyahu hailed “100 years of friendship” between Israel and Australia, referring to the liberation of the now Israeli city of Beersheba from the Ottoman Empire and saying “they fought alongside Jews in World War II to save Israel from a Nazi invasion.”

“They are far, but they are close,” he said. “And we are very happy to strengthen this closeness during this visit.”

The prime minister will stay in Sydney until Sunday, meeting with top government officials and senior leaders of the Jewish community before heading back to Israel.

Netanyahu will not travel to the country’s capital of Canberra during his visit, instead meeting with government officials at Sydney’s Commonwealth Parliament Offices, where the government convenes when it is not in the capital.

Honoured to represent 🇦🇺 PM @TurnbullMalcolm to welcome #Israel PM @netanyahu & Mrs Netanyahu for this historic visit 🇦🇺🇮🇱 pic.twitter.com/8O7BrilsO8

— C Fierravanti-Wells (@Senator_CFW) February 21, 2017

Shortly before Netanyahu’s arrival, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball reaffirmed his country’s support for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Israel and the Palestinians need to come to a settlement and we support a directly negotiated two-state solution so that Palestinians will have their own state and the people of Israel can be secure within agreed borders,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote in The Australian newspaper, amid reports that the Israeli leader was no longer backing the two-state formula.

In a time of deep and intractable conflicts in the Middle East, Israeli and Palestinian leaders “should return to the negotiating table and work towards a solution that upholds the rights of both peoples to live side by side in peace and security,” he wrote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 4, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 4, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Australia’s foreign minister indicated last week that Canberra could be open to a one-state agreement as well if that was what the sides desired, echoing US President Donald Trump’s statement last Wednesday that he would accept whatever Israelis and Palestinians agreed on.

Turnbull also warmly welcomed his Israeli counterpart, called the Jewish state a “miraculous nation” and stated unequivocally that his government rejected UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which in December harshly criticized Israel’s settlement enterprise.

“My government will not support one-sided resolutions criticizing Israel of the kind recently adopted by the UN Security Council and we deplore the boycott campaigns designed to delegitimize the Jewish state,” Turnbull said.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had said Thursday that if there was “another solution” besides two states “that ensured the Israelis and Palestinians could live side by side, together, between internationally recognized boundaries, then of course the world should support that.”

When challenged that the one-state scheme is rejected by the Palestinians, Bishop responded that “what we need is for the Palestinians to recognize that the State of Israel exists and will continue to exist.”

Last Wednesday, in a White House press conference with Netanyahu, Trump bucked America’s longstanding commitment to a two-state solution, saying it didn’t need to be the only path forward.

“I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he said, showing enthusiasm for Netanyahu’s call for a regional initiative that relied on Israel’s improving relationships with Arab countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, sits with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during a meeting at the Istana presidential palace in Singapore, Monday, Feb. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Joseph Nair)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, sits with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during a meeting at the Istana presidential palace in Singapore, Monday, Feb. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Joseph Nair)

During Netanyahu’s visit to Singapore, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also reiterated his support for a two-state solution, saying “we have consistently believed that a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, however hard to achieve, is the only way to bring peace and security to both peoples.”

During his stay in Australia, Netanyahu is expected to face a series of protests. Over 60 prominent Australians signed an open letter opposing his visit, citing the Israeli government’s policies toward the Palestinians, and demonstrations are planned for Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

“It is time for the suffering of the Palestinian people to stop and for Australia to take a more balanced role in supporting the application of international law and not supporting Mr Netanyahu and his policies,” the signatories — including former politicians, legal professionals and clergy — wrote. “Mr Netanyahu’s policies consistently aim to provoke, intimidate and oppress the Palestinian population which increase that imbalance [of power], thus taking Israel irretrievably further from peace. These policies are inconsistent with Australian values and beliefs and we should not welcome him here,” they added.

AP contributed to this report.