Sep 22, 2021

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Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English will visit Israel at the end of October, the foreign ministry said Thursday.

The joint visit will mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beer Sheva, a major push led by General Edmund Allenby that ousted Ottoman forces from southern Israel in the final weeks of World War I. Dozens of Australian and New Zealand soldiers died and dozens more were wounded in the battle. The incident is an important bookmark in the military history of both countries; Turnbull and English will headline an A-list of dignitaries to mark the anniversary with a memorial ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Beer Sheva.

The Australian ambassador declined to comment on the visit, but Turnbull’s time in Israel will be the third top-level bilateral visit between Israeli and Australian officials in the past 12 months. A year ago, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Opposition Leader MK Yitzhak Herzog (Zionist Camp) and a rash of business leaders. The trip was followed by a two-day stop by Netanyahu Down Under in February 2017.

Both sides described the reciprocal visits as “highly successful” that celebrated strong ties between Canberra and Jerusalem. In Sydney, Netanyahu said the visit “celebrates, really, 100 years of friendship of Australia to the Jewish people and their state.”

Bishop, for her part, said that Judea and Samaria settlements should not be considered “illegal.” More recently,  The Australian national daily reported that Bishop told Jewish community leaders in Melbourne that she would be “open to establishing a diplomatic presence in Jerusalem,” if England were to open a High Commission or a consulate in Jerusalem. She stressed, however, that there was no consideration of moving the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv.

Talks with the New Zealand premier, however, will likely be more fraught, though Israel is hoping that relations with Wellington will improve once English’s conservative National Party completes coalition negotiations.

The two countries have a history of tension, particularly during the term of former Labour Party Prime Minister Helen Clark, who imposed diplomatic sanctions after two Israelis pleaded guilty to trying to purchase forged New Zealand passports. Clark said the incident “violated New Zealand’s sovereignty.”

More recently, Jerusalem recalled its ambassador to Wellington after New Zealand sponsored Security Resolution 2334, which accused Israel of violating international law and blocking peace with the Palestinians by building Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

The countries announced a resumption of full diplomatic ties in June.