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Benjamin Netanyahu Gets a Warm Reception From Australia’s Leader

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, left, with his host, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in Sydney, Australia, on Wednesday. The visit was a first by a sitting Israeli leader.

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Jason Reed/Reuters

SYDNEY, Australia — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was warmly welcomed here Wednesday by his Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, with the Israeli leader promoting the two countries’ growing ties as Israel faces rising international criticism over its settlement policy in the West Bank.

“I’m honored to be the first Israeli prime minister to officially visit Australia,” Mr. Netanyahu said at a joint news conference. “It’s been a long time coming. It celebrates, really, a hundred years of friendship of Australia to the Jewish people and their state.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s visit has generated some pushback here, with 60 notable Australians having signed a letter opposing it because of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Australia was one of a handful of countries to speak out against a United Nations Security Council resolution critical of recent moves to expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Australia called the resolution “one sided” and “deeply unsettling.”

Mr. Netanyahu praised Australia for pointing out what he called the hypocrisy of the United Nations. “Australia’s been courageously willing to puncture U.N. hypocrisy, more than once,” he said.

Mr. Turnbull said that on the general question of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a goal that President Trump recently seemed to call into question — Australia’s position had not changed.

“Our position is exactly the same as it has been for many years,” Mr. Turnbull said. “We support an outcome which has two states where Israelis, the Israeli people, the Palestinian people live side by side as a result of direct negotiations between them.”

But, Mr. Turnbull said, “You cannot expect any Israeli government to put itself in a position where its security is at risk, where its citizens are not safe. The first duty of every government is the safety of the people.”

The visit comes as Australia’s support of Israel faces increasing scrutiny domestically. Bill Shorten, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, who is also supportive of Israel, is facing pressure to declare his party’s official position as backing recognition of a state of Palestine, with three former foreign ministers arguing for a shift in policy.

In their public remarks, the two leaders highlighted the growing ties between the two nations. Mr. Turnbull said Australia was deepening cooperation with Israel with a new agreement on technology and innovation and by working on a deal for direct air travel between the two countries. Trade between the two now totals about 1.3 billion Australian dollars, or about $1 billion, a year.

Mr. Netanyahu said the two nations had also cooperated in fighting terrorism and advancing peace. “In all of these efforts, we see you, Australia, as our partner,” he said.

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