Waiting for US election results, Netanyahu continues own diplomatic blitz

While his friend and ally US President Donald Trump is busy with the elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues with his own diplomatic blitz.

al-monitor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Cabinet meeting of the new government at Chagall State Hall in the Knesset, Jerusalem, May 24, 2020. Photo by ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.

Topics covered

gulf states, normalization, us elections, donald trump, benjamin netanyahu, austria, malawi, romania

Nov 4, 2020

Between coronavirus Cabinet sessions Nov. 3, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with his Romanian counterpart Lufovic Orban. The Romanian prime minister is in Israel on a three-day visit that will also include a meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. Orban did not come to Jerusalem alone and brough along Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu and Defense Minister Nicolae Ciuca. In other words, all of Romania’s top leadership is in Israel until Nov. 5.

"Excellent meeting with Israeli PM Netanyahu. Reconfirmed our longstanding strategic interests, discussed prospects of further enhancing our ties plus regional security in the Middle East. Government-to-Government meeting 2021 will deepen bilateral cooperation (economy and security, technology and innovation, health and agriculture," tweeted Orban after his meeting with Netanyahu.

Israel’s esteemed Ambassador to Romania David Saranga, who had long labored for this visit, said after the meeting that the two heads of states "discussed the bilateral cooperation, the upcoming governmental dialogue, the developments within the Joint Economic Working Group and signed a mutual agreement on double taxation." The senior diplomat noted that apart from meeting Netanyahu, Orban also met with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and President Reuven Rivlin.  

These statements on both sides testify to the significant bilateral relations between Jerusalem and Bucharest in many domains — a  visit by a close ally that came just in time for Netanyahu while he waits for the results of the US presidential elections.

Orban’s visit is one of four official visits to Israel scheduled so far for November. Malawi’s Foreign Minister Eisenhower Mkaka arrived to Israel Nov. 3 for two days. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva will arrive Nov. 12 and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz will arrive Nov. 26.

Kurz's visit was planned a long time ago. Still, three senior visits from Central and Eastern European countries in one month is hardly a coincidence. September and October were marked by Israel’s rapprochement with several Gulf and Muslim states, ahead of the Nov. 3 US presidential elections, offering US President Donald Trump excellent photo-ops and headlines. Netanyahu knows that November could be different. The Americans will be busy with their own thing, so Netanyahu must seek his own photo-ops, showing that his diplomatic blitz has not come to a halt.

During the meeting with Orban, Netanyahu showcased again his alliance with Central and Eastern Europe — a sort of right-wing/euroskeptic partnership that should replace Israel’s relations with the European Union (EU). Appearing to scold the EU for failing to understand the changing nature of the Middle East, Netanyahu thanked Bucharest “for helping us present a sensible case to the EU.” He added, "We’re in a period of peace. We’ve made peace and normalization agreements with three Arab countries in six weeks. So obviously they have a different view of the situation here in the Middle East than some of the traditional bureaucracies of the EU. We will continue to value your [Romanian] assistance in explaining to the EU the changing circumstances in the Middle East that are advancing peace and prosperity for all.”

Mkaka’s visit also created headlines. Meeting with Ashkenazi, Mkaka announced that Malawi is planning to open an embassy in Jerusalem by the summer of 2021. "I welcomed Malawi FM Eisenhower Mkaka to Jerusalem this evening and thanked him for the message from President Lazarus Chakwera that Malawi is to become the 1st African country to open an embassy in Jerusalem," tweeted Ashkenazi.

Malawi will be the third country, after the United States and Guatemala, to open an embassy in Israel’s capital. In the past two years, several other countries have said they intend to follow in Washington’s footsteps, opening an embassy, a diplomatic mission, a commercial delegation or a cultural institute in Jerusalem. These include Brazil, Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, Moldova, the Czech Republic and of course Romania. Bulgaria is not quite there yet, but it did announce in 2018 the opening of an honorary consulate in the city.

Whatever happens in the coming days in the United States, Netanyahu can at least look forward to Kunz's visit. Israel and Austria have been cooperating tightly ever since the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak, creating a group of states that managed to curb the spread of the pandemic. In a phone call after the terrorist attack in Vienna Nov. 2, Netanyahu exposed another facet of Israeli-Austrian cooperation: sharing intelligence information on extreme Islam in Europe. “The people of Israel stand with Austria … against the savagery of Islamist terrorism. We are cooperating in every way with our intelligence and every other way we can,” said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has an active and assertive foreign minister who relentlessly works for the opening of embassies in Abu Dhabi and Manama. But that does not mean that the prime minister will leave him to play alone in the foreign relations’ playground. On the contrary. In the coming weeks and months, Netanyahu will continue advancing the priorities he had set already some years ago, in the following order more or less: Washington, Gulf and Muslim states, Eastern Europe, Africa and India.

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