PARIS — On an official visit to Rome on Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed developing bilateral relations between Israel and Italy, a trip that comes at height of escalation with Palestinians in West Bank and as the Biden administration continues to be reluctant in inviting the Israeli prime minister in Washington.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Netanyahu said they discussed how both countries could "advance our common interests to even greater heights."
Prior to the meeting with Meloni, Netanyahu had said he was meeting with the Italian prime minister in order to work together against Iranian efforts to arm itself with nuclear bombs which would be directed against both countries. Still, at the joint press conference, Netanyahu did not address the Iranian threat.
"Italy wants to be a hub for the supply of energy to Europe and for many other things. We think exactly that, and have gas reserves that we are now exporting, and we would like to expedite more gas export to Europe through Italy, " said Netanyahu, adding he was hoping to put together in the next few months a government-to-government meeting in Jerusalem for teams from both sides to work together in a wide range of domains.
Interviewed by the Italian daily La Republica on Thursday, Netanyahu said he hoped to sway Italy to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. "I believe the time has come for Rome to recognize Jerusalem as the ancestral capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years, as the United States did with a gesture of great friendship."
Meloni heads a far-right government in Italy, not unlike Netanyahu. Italy is seeking enormous post-pandemic financial support from the European Union, so fighting with Brussels over recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital is not in the cards for the near future. Thus Meloni did not raise the Jerusalem issue in her public statement after the meeting.
Meloni expressed her concerns on growing tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. The Italian prime minister said she would like to assist in renewing the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians and in efforts to expand the Abraham Accords peace circle. She also said Italy supports the understandings reached between Israel and the Palestinians at the Feb. 26 Aqaba meeting.
Netanyahu’s visit to Italy is his third trip abroad after traveling to Jordan, where he met with King Abdullah, and to France, where he met with President Emmanuel Macron. During his election campaign, Netanyahu had said he was hoping for his first trip abroad as prime minister would be to the Emirates. In reality, tensions with the Palestinians stood in the way of such a trip. Unlike Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Netanyahu has not yet been invited to the White House, in what is considered in Jerusalem a particularly negative signal on the part of Washington.
Senior US officials have been calling on Israel repeatedly in recent weeks to lower the flames in the West Bank. With more than 70 Palestinians killed in the West Bank since the beginning of the year, Netanyahu’s government is also under constant criticism by the European Union leadership in Brussels and by Paris.
Apart from the Palestinian issue, more countries in the West are criticizing Netanyahu on the judicial overhaul plan advanced by his government. On his visit to Israel on Thursday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin addressed a clear warning to Jerusalem. He said, “The genius of democracy, of American democracy and Israeli democracy, is that they are both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances and on an independent judiciary.” Macron said similar things to Netanyahu at their meeting in the Elysee Palace.
Shunned by Washington, Netanyahu is striving to gain international credibility elsewhere. This explains his three-day visit to Italy and an upcoming three-day visit to Berlin next week.