Saturday, May 24, 2014

Netanyahu’s Alternative Ties to Europe

NetanyahuIsrael’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on a state visit to Japan last week, as part of his efforts to strengthen Israel’s economic and political ties with Asia, Africa and Latin America. On the political side, Netanyahu sought to persuade his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, to refrain from lifting the economic sanctions on Iran. He also addressed Japanese business leaders on the wisdom of buying Israeli technologies.
In search for markets outside Europe, Netanyahu is planning a trip to Latin America. A previously scheduled trip to Columbia, Mexico and Panama by PM Netanyahu was cancelled due to the Israeli Foreign Ministry strike. It has since been rescheduled.

The Netanyahu-led government is responding to the threats of sanctions by the European Union, and the EU attempts to isolate Israel as a way to exact Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. The Europeans have been putting the onus on Israel for the freeze in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. They continually protest to Israeli officials the “ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.”
The EU boycott threats worries Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who fears a drop of 20% in Israeli exports to the EU (Lapid supports a pullback from most of Judea and Samaria/West Bank in an effort to secure a peace accord with the Palestinians). Israel’s trade with the EU last year reached $36.7 billion, up from $20.9 billion a decade earlier.

Reuters (2/23/ 2014) Crispian Balmer writes: “It is true that some foreign firms have started to shun Israeli business concerns operating in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – land seized in the 1967 war – and the European Union is increasingly angered by relentless Jewish settlement expansion. But the bulk of Israeli business is clustered on the Mediterranean coast, a world away from the roadblocks and watchtowers of the West Bank, and not even the Palestinian leadership is demanding a total economic boycott.”
Last December, the Dutch firm Vitens said it would not work with Israel’s Water Company Mekorot because of its “West Bank footprints.” In January, 2014, the Dutch pension fund, PGGM, divested from five Israeli banks because of their work in Jewish settlements. Denmark’s Danske Bank blacklisted Bank Hapoalim for the same reason. Yet, a high British court decided that a boycott of Israel’s Ahava beauty products is not supported by international law, whether or not they are produced in the West Bank.  Tourism from northern Europe to Israel has declined significantly, but tourism from other countries more than make up for it. And, the Irish firm Covidien recently paid $1 billion to acquire the Israeli cutting-edge medical innovator Given Imaging, while at the same time the Irish government and its diplomats bash Israel over its “occupation.”
The seemingly European subservience to Palestinian wishes (Omar Barghouti, is the co-founder of the BDS movement) reveals more than a bit of anti-Jewish bigotry on the part of the Europeans. They ignore the fact that Palestinian terror against Israeli civilians necessitated the security fence, roadblocks and checkpoints. Moreover, it is the Palestinians who repeatedly undermined all efforts to reach an agreement with Israel. Additionally, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was supposed to end incitement against Israel and Jews under the Oslo Accords, which never ended. Arafat launched a violent Intifada following his refusal to “end the conflict” with Israel at the July, 2000 Camp David Summit.
Jonathan Medved, CEO of OurCrowd, a company that seeks to provide venture capital to Israeli companies told Reuters “The truth is that Israel is a world leader in water, next-generation agriculture, cyber security, healthcare innovation and start-ups. What sane person is going to walk away from that?”
At a meeting of the Likud faction in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) last Monday (May 19, 2014), Netanyahu pointed to the various economic agreements Israel signed in recent weeks with non-European states. He declared a change in Israeli policy, explaining that Israel will seek out markets away from Europe.
Netanyahu announced at the same meeting that he had just came back from welcoming China’s Vice Premier Liu Yandong to Jerusalem where they signed an accord. China and Israel agreed on Monday (5/19/2014) to expand cooperation between the two countries. He also reminded his colleagues that he had signed a similar accord last week in Japan.  Netanyahu revealed that the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan called him to discuss Israeli aid to Nigeria in its struggle against Islamist terror. He said that on Sunday he was contacted by Serbia’s President Tomislav Nikolic, who asked for Israeli emergency help, following the devastating floods in Serbia.
Netanyahu added that at a previous Cabinet meeting, Israel agreed to cooperate with the Latin America Pacific Alliance comprised of Chile, Columbia, Mexico and Peru. He mentioned that he spoke with the newly elected Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who expressed his desire to strengthen Israeli-Indian relations.
Although currently a third of Israel’s exports go to Europe, Netanyahu has realized that Europe is stagnating. The growing anti-Semitism in the EU region, and the hypocrisy of the EU with their boycott threats, has convinced Netanyahu to strengthen Israel’s ties with rising nations elsewhere in the world. In the next few months, Netanyahu plans to visit Australia and Brazil.
Netanyahu observed that Africa’s economic growth last year was around 6% while Europe’s was 0%.  He views Europe as passé while Africa and Asia represent the future. To highlight Africa’s increasing importance Netanyahu cited the recent visits to Africa of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, as well as China’s President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Li Keqiang, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.  Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will also visit five African states next month, as a way to strengthen and promote Africa-Israeli ties.
In what amounted to clear Israeli frustration with the EU hypocrisy, FM Lieberman, in an acerbic statement on his Facebook page said, “When innocents are slaughtered every day in Syria, when mass casualty attacks continue in Iraq, and when there are many other points of confrontation and conflict that take human life around the globe, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton found the real threat to world peace, and called for Israel to reverse its policies toward the Palestinians, referring to the announcement that almost 1,000 dunams near Gush Etzion would be state land and that the Peace House in Hebron would be populated.”
Many Israeli politicians have labeled the EU as “irrelevant.” The EU, for its part, has demanded that Israel show “significant progress” in negotiations with the Palestinians, but provided vague benchmarks. They want to see the creation of a Palestinian state that is independent, democratic, and contiguous before they ratify the EU-Israel Revised Action Plan. Yet, at the same time, the EU ignores the religious and ideological arguments regarding the historical claims to the territories. They likewise overlook the domestic constrains of Israeli politicians, and similarly avoid the reality of the Palestinians refusal to live with and recognize the Jewish state. They cannot comprehend the Islamists belief in “dar el-Islam” (the domain of Islam), which excludes independent non-Muslim entities in the Middle East region.
It is for all of these reasons that PM Netanyahu seeks an alternative to the EU. The increasing frequency in which EU based companies, with support from their states, seek to isolate Israel through boycotts and other punitive measures, has prompted Israel to look elsewhere. Fortunately for Israel, alternatives exist.

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