KAMPALA (Reuters) – Uganda is “studying” the possibility of opening an embassy in Jerusalem, President Yoweri Museveni said on Monday, during a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at State House in Entebbe, Uganda February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Abubaker Lubowa
Such a move would be seen internationally as a statement of support for Israel’s claim for the city of Jerusalem to be its capital, a potential political win for Netanyahu less than a month before a national election on March 2.
“If a friend says I want your embassy here rather than there I don’t see why there would be…,” Museveni said before trailing off and continuing: “we are really working, we’re studying that.”
“You open an embassy in Jerusalem and I will open an embassy in Kampala,” promised Netanyahu. “We hope to do this in the near future.”
Palestinians claim East Jerusalem — captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war — for their own capital. But a peace plan presented last week by U.S. President Donald Trump envisaged a Palestinian capital outside Jerusalem’s municipal limits.
The Palestinian leadership on Saturday rejected the plan and cut all ties with the United States and Israel, including those relating to security.
Uganda and Israel currently have no embassy in each other’s country, though Museveni is a long-standing ally of Israel, which trains some elements of the Ugandan security forces.
Israel’s embassy in Nairobi, in neighbouring Kenya, currently handles its relations with Uganda.
Uganda’s Entebbe airport was the scene in 1976 of a dramatic rescue operation conducted by Israeli commandos to save nearly 100 mostly Israeli passengers on board an Air France airliner hijacked by Palestinian and German militants.
Netanyahu, whose elder brother Yonatan, a commander in the operation, was killed in the incident, said he found every visit to Uganda “profoundly moving” for this reason. Three passengers and all the hostage takers also died in the operation.
As well as the embassy issue, Netanyahu said Israel and Uganda were exploring the possibility of having direct flights and of closer cooperation in cyber security.
“Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel in a big way,” he said.
Rights groups, critical of Museveni’s record on human rights, are unlikely to welcome the prospect of increased cooperation with Israel on cyber security.
Security personnel in Uganda routinely break up opposition rallies with tear gas, beatings and detentions.
Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Gareth Jones