Monday, May 12, 2014

Israel at 66: Not a Pariah, Not Isolated

by Gideon Israel


As the modern state of Israel turned 66 this week, it is important to realize that, despite the dreary predictions to the contrary, Israel is not a pariah state, nor is it isolated. However, voices inside and outside of Israel continue to espouse their gloom and doom forecast that failure of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will increase Israel’s pariah status and/or lead them into isolation. Yet, we don’t need to search very far to find those voices and examine what constituency they represent – since Tzippi Livni, Israel’s Justice Minister and chief negotiator, repeatedly makes this assertion.

She has said, “peace negotiations are the wall stopping the wave [of international boycott pressure],” and in 2013, “we are at the last minute before isolation.” In 2010, “Israel is becoming isolated from the world,” and indicted PM Netanyahu saying, “since you took control, Israel has become a pariah country in the world.”

These statements, and other similar pronouncements, are never supported with data or backed up with facts. However, Livni, other ‘friends’ of Israel and like-minded pundits believe that these types of statements, combined with pictures of fringe groups around the globe supporting BDS, is enough to scare the public into buying into their vision.

But, is Israel really isolated? Even more so, what is the nature of the isolation which Livni, Kerry and others speak about? They certainly haven’t elaborated on what they mean since their pronouncements lack factual support. A country might be considered isolated when most other countries sever relations with them for an extended and indefinite period of time. This might include a cessation of economic, diplomatic, cultural ties and/or an arms embargo. This might also be coupled with UN Security Council sanctions (not to be mistaken for UNGA condemnations which carry absolutely no weight). Since policymakers have made statements warning of isolation, it is important to refute those claims, lest they spread.

Prior to his visit to Israel in 2013, senior Chinese Communist Official in charge of information, media and culture, Liu Qibao, discussed Chinese-Israel relations:
Our bilateral relationship has grown robust and mature over the past 21 years of diplomatic relations…exchange of visits between senior officials is frequent…trade and economic ties grow fast. China is now Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia…Cooperation in science and technology is fruitful. Cultural and people-to-people exchanges are more and more active…China-Israel relationship will undoubtedly embrace a bright future.
Throughout the whole interview the Israeli-Arab conflict was not mentioned once. And while there might be calls for boycott and divestment in Israel China not only hasn’t joined those calls, but is also going ahead with the Red-Med project to build a railroad from Eilat to Ashdod.

Israel-Indian ties also continue to grow stronger. Israel is India’s second largest supplier of arms after Russia with bi-lateral arms trade over the last decade estimated at $10 billion. India’s foreign minister Krishna visited Israel in 2012, and the visit of the Chief of Staff of India’s army, Maj. Gen. Bikram Singh, to Israel in March, 2014, focused on joint cooperation. Israel currently has more than 27 agricultural projects with India and will be sponsoring more than 100 post-doctoral scholarships for Indians in Israel. Additionally, Narendra Modi, head of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), and likely the next Prime Minister of India, has long courted political and economic ties with Israel.

Both India and China, as Professor Efraim Inbar wrote, “treat the Jewish State with reverence as they see in it a similar old civilization that reached remarkable achievements.”

Russia is very interested in Israel’s high-tech and especially its UAVs. [President] Putin has already visited Israel twice and the last four Israeli Prime Ministers, as well as Shimon Peres, FM Lieberman and Defense Minister, Ehud Barak have all been to Moscow in their official capacity. In 2010, Russia and Israel signed an agreement for bilateral cooperation in industrial scientific-research and design-experimental work, and the following year, Israel and Russia agreed to expand space cooperation, and joint cooperation in the sciences and nanotechnology continue.

In Central Asia, Israel has strong relationships with Kazakhstan, with whom they entered into an agreement for defense exports and joint cooperation in January, 2014. Azerbaijan, neighboring Iran, is a country with good economic and political relations with Israel, whose foreign minister visited Israel last year. It has even been speculated that Israel might use Azerbaijan airfields to attack Iran.

“Praise to Allah and Israeli doctors” is a phrase that could be commonly heard in Nukus, the capital of Karakalapakstan (an autonomous republic in Uzbekistan), where a few years ago, Israeli surgeons restored eyesight to 150 people who were either blind or had a severe cataract condition. In Uzbekistan, Israel also has programs in medical training, agriculture and high-tech. The GMF foreign policy report summarized the relationship saying, “even though they consider Palestinian claims legitimate, the Central Asian states hope for Israel’s increased involvement in the region, especially in terms of state and private trade, and growing security oriented cooperation in the arms and high technology sectors.”

South Korea, whose sees in itself many geo-political similarities with Israel, also has a prosperous relationship with Israel. Trade between Israel and South Korea is approximately $2.5 billion annually. Additionally, the interactions between the two countries include security cooperation, economic ties, technology cooperation, and exchanges between policy institutes. Recently, the Korea-Israel High-Tech Network website was launched, which will facilitate connections and the creation of joint ventures between Israeli and South Korean companies.

While Europe might be Israel’s toughest arena, they also have many friends there. Just last month, 24 leading European Parliamentarians from eleven European countries, including five deputy speakers met with their Israeli counterparts to find out how they can support Israel in the European arena. On the website of the Polish embassy in Israel, the bi-lateral relations page is titled: “Extraordinary Cooperation Between Poland and Israel.” The article goes on to mention that in 2011, Israel and Polish relations were upgraded to the highest possible government-to-government dialogue.

When David Cameron visited Israel last month, he rejected all calls for boycotts to Israel saying, “Britain opposes boycotts…Delegitimising the state of Israel is wrong. It’s abhorrent. And together we will defeat it.”

In addition to all of the above, Israel’ most important friend and ally remains the United States. Yet, even its relationship with the United States, only started to blossom during President Eisenhower’s second term when he began to see Israel as a strategic asset, instead of a liability. As this perspective shift happened, Eisenhower’s rhetoric concerning territorial compromises to the Arabs began to abate. The following anecdote epitomizes the solid foundations of US-Israel relations. In May 1998, it was reported that President Clinton had issued an ultimatum to Prime Minister Netanyahu to cede certain territories to the Palestinians. Congressman from all sides of the aisle came out swinging condemning the White House, called the administration’s initiative absolutely outrageous and extortion. Other Congressman remarked that regarding the peace process Congress is on Israel’s side, ‘come what may’, and that no matter what pressures the administration applies to Netanyahu, the Israeli leader is on firm ground with Congress.

So, given the strong ties Israel has with many countries, what isolation are Kerry and Livni talking about? Many of Israel’s relationships with countries worldwide are built on foundations of mutual interest, not capricious, erratic diplomatic support. One wonders if John Kerry’s statements concerning isolation are a self-fulfilling prophecy, and for Livni, they speak of her frustration at not being received warmly in her favorite European capitals.

Abba Eban, in his book Personal Witness, mentions that as the new President of the Weizmann Institute he was always looking for new initiatives. In 1960, he organized the “Rehovot Conference on the Role of Science and Technology in Developing States.” The purpose of the conference was to organize periodic encounters between leaders in science and technology and those who determine the policies of new states. Eban believed that science could help accelerate the development of new states, and that the scientists could be challenged to tackle some of the real problems facing society, thus creating a reciprocal advantage.

When Eban proposed the conference, one could truly say that Israel was isolated. During the greater part of the 1950s the only world leader to visit Israel was the Prime Minister of Burma, U Nu, as most heads of state looked to safeguard their interests in the Arab world, and hence avoided visiting Israel. However, Eban writes, the conference drew, “prime ministers, foreign ministers, economic ministers, directors of development, and leading educators from thirty countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, together with heads of UN specialized agencies, representatives of leading United Nations bodies, renowned scientists and Nobel Laureates.”

The response to the conference was so overwhelming that Prime Minister Ben Gurion, in a speech to the Knesset, wondered how a private citizen (Eban) was able to bring more leaders of states and Nobel Prize winners to Israel than any of the government ministries. Golda Meir, in her autobiography, remarked that the Rehovot Conference was something of a breakthrough in Israel’s international relations. In Eban’s own words, “The Rehovot Conference helped to take Israel out of diplomatic isolation.”

International relations are driven by common interests, projects, and reciprocal advantages that countries can provide to each another. Diplomats who think that international relations is based only on cocktail parties, empty slogans, and joint press conferences where government ministers take turns embellishing on their countries “common values and aspirations” have missed the boat.

Israel is not a pariah, nor is it isolated. Attempts by its own Ministers or by those who pose as friends of Israel to make such a claim is deplorable and self-serving. As Israel’s economic strength continues to rise, so will its standing worldwide, and as more countries join the war against radical Muslims, Israel will be more sought out. The future for Israel remains bright!

Gideon Israel is a research analyst for Sohlberg Consulting and the author of a comprehensive policy paper on the US aid to Israel.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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