Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled his planned visit to Paris and Madrid, which was on Wednesday, due to the “security situation in southern Israel,” despite the renewed calm in the Gaza Strip.
Attempts at coordinating the visits to France and Spain began after Netanyahu's return to Israel from the AIPAC conference in Washington. Israeli embassies in Paris and Madrid were asked to inquire whether the Élysée Palace and Spain’s prime minister’s office would allow Netanyahu to visit on March 21 and 22.
According to an Israeli official, the Prime Minister’s Office clarified that Netanyahu was interested to discuss the Iran issue with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and newly-elected Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Netanyahu sought to update the two European leaders regarding Israel’s stance, as he did during his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama during his Washington trip.
Israeli embassies began making initial contact and received positive responses. Both the French and the Spanish stated that Sarkozy and Rajoy were very interested in meeting Netanyahu. For Sarkozy, who is fighting for every vote in an upcoming Presidential election, this was an opportunity to demonstrate warmth and friendliness toward Netanyahu, and to atone for calling Netanyahu a “liar” during a meeting with Obama. The embarrassing incident was received negatively among the Jewish community in France.
Moreover, Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy, who heads the right-wing camp in his country, invited Netanyahu for a visit to Madrid several months ago. Rajoy is the leader of Spain’s rightist party, who was formerly headed by José María Aznar, a friend of Netanyahu.
However, after receiving the positive responses from both Paris and Madrid, the Prime Minister’s Office held further consultations and eventually announced that the visits will not take place, due to the “sensitive security situation in southern Israel.”
The explanation given by the Prime Minister’s office is a bit strange, especially in light of the fact that it was released after a renewed ceasefire was announced in the Gaza Strip. Thus, the cancellation brings up the question of whether the Prime Minister’s Office expects another round of fighting in the coming days. The Prime Minister’s Office refused to comment or offer a response over the cancellation.
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