Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday during an official two-day visit to Israel, which is to be followed by a stop in the Palestinian Authority.
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Renzi is the first European leader to visit Israel since the signing of the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, which was reached partly through the efforts of Italian politician Frederica Mogherini, who is in charge the European Union’s foreign affairs.
During his visit Renzi is expected to try to alleviate some of Israel’s fears concerning the Iranian deal, as well as discuss other matters such as the war against terror, expanding technological cooperation, and — according to some sources — restarting the peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
On Wednesday, Renzi is scheduled to meet with President Reuven Rivlin and opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) and address the Knesset. At the end of his stay in Israel, the Italian leader will visit the Palestinian Authority and meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
Renzi,who has been described by one of the heads of his Democratic Party, Pier Luigi Bersani, as the “most right-wing” center-left politician concerning Israel, was received warmly by his hosts, including Netanyahu, who also met with him in Rome last December.
“Israel’s security is Europe’s security and mine too. We have a common destiny to share,” said Renzi at a joint press conference with Netanyahu on Tuesday. “Coming to Israel is like coming home, and it is the country where the roots of our culture and also our future can be found,” he told Netanyahu.
The stop in Israel is an opportunity for Renzi to take a short break from troubles at home, including the kidnapping of four Italian citizens in Libya on Monday as well a sharp drop in popularity since becoming prime minister in February 2014.
While Renzi, a former mayor of Florence, won 70 percent of the votes in the elections for the European Parliament last year as an avid supporter of European unity, recent polls give him only 36 percent backing. That’s about the same support as that of his rival Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-European Lega Nord party which opposes immigration and calls for Italy to leave the euro bloc.
Even though there has been a small improvement in the Italian economy over the past year, a large number of Renzi’s supporters have moved rightward. The tight cooperation between Renzi and the EU , including his support for the policies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the Greek crisis, have eroded his support. “The honeymoon is over,” wrote Nando Pagnocelli, the director of a poll conducted by pollster IPSOS last month.
Renzi’s standing within his own party is also becoming shaky. His former deputy finance minister, Stefano Fassina, recently bolted the party in order to found a “true left” that opposes the steps Germany is imposing on members of the euro bloc, which he called a “mercantilist path that is leading to collapse.”