Israel is redirecting funds from trade missions in western Europe in favor of
opening new vistas in the east, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett told The
Jerusalem Post on Wednesday from Indonesia, where he is participating in a World
Trade Organization conference.
Bennett said Israel has closed Israeli
trade representations in Finland and Sweden in order to have the funds to open
new missions in the east. “At the end of the day I am diverting funds from
western Europe to open trade missions in China, India and Hong Kong,” he
Finland and Sweden are currently among the countries most critical
of Israeli policies inside the EU.
“One of the lessons from Horizon
2020,” Bennett said, “was that we need to diversify, to have a much broader set
of arrangements, and not only through the EU Commission.
We don’t want to
be dependent on any organization or country.”
Horizon 2020 is the EU’s
flagship R&D program that Israel will join only after a bruising battle over
the implementation of the EU’s strict guidelines governing the ban of EU grants,
prizes or financial instruments to any Israeli entities over the Green Line,
including east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Bennett was the first
Israeli minister in 13 years to visit Indonesia, the world’s most populous
Muslim country. Shimon Peres visited there briefly in 2000 as minister of
Addressing the conference in Bali, Bennett said
that “economic ties can create bridges for peace,” and that as Israel’s minister
of economy, “I anxiously await the day I can sit down and sign free trade
agreements with all of Israel’s neighbors as well as other Arab and Muslim
states in the wider region.”
A number of Arab and Muslim delegates were
in the plenum when Bennett spoke, and no one demonstratively walked
Bennett told the Post that in his view “diplomacy can follow
economy,” and that greater Israeli economic activity around the world would
serve to “de-emphasize” the importance many countries place on the Palestinian
Bennett said the “Oslo, Tzipi Livni, peace talks” track “does not
“Our biggest mistake is not that we don’t make our case,”
he said, “but that we are overly focused on it, instead of on our strong
points,” such as innovation and technology.
“I call this the lighthouse
in the storm,” he said.
“Our region is going to be screwed up for the
next 100 years. Our diplomacy needs to be based on economy.”
held talks in Bali with counterparts from Canada, Mexico, Vietnam, Russia and
India, said “everyone is coming over to me here, saying we need your innovation,
how do you inject that innovation into your economy? My point of view is that
this is our core competency.”
What he liked about the World Trade
Organization, Bennett said, was that “it is about economy and prosperity, the
standard good old politics are not part of it.”
Bennett took part in the
formal inauguration of the new trade mission in Hong Kong this week.