During visit to China, Bennett bashes Livni for sowing fears of EU boycott

Western envoys: No chance of boycott; Bayit Yehudi head says Beijing, J'lem taking first step toward free trade agreement.

July 10, 2013 01:59
3 minute read.
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett.

Bennett sizing up imaginary sandwich 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett took a swipe at Justice Minister Tzipi Livni from China, saying in a Facebook post this week that she should stop cautioning that the world will boycott Israel if it does not make progress on the Palestinian diplomatic track.

Bennett, in China holding talks with officials on increasing trade and economic cooperation, said the Chinese were interested in one thing: “Feeding 1.3 billion Chinese.”

“The Chinese appreciate and admire the Jewish mind and Israeli entrepreneurship,” Bennett wrote. “The Palestinians and the conflict do not interest them. They did not raise it with me even once, in any meetings.”

He said Tuesday that an agreement was reached with the Chinese to conduct a joint preliminary study to examine the degree to which a free trade agreement would be beneficial to the two countries.

Bennett described this preliminary move as a “breakthrough” and as a first step toward such an agreement.

During Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s trip to China in May, Israeli officials said that numerous countries were in line to come to free trade agreements with China, and that process would likely take years. Besides, the officials said, because of Israel’s small market, it was not on the top of China’s priority list for this status.

In his reference to Livni, the government’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians who last week warned of a possible European boycott if Israel did not move on the diplomatic track, Bennett said: “There are ministers who are going around sowing panic, saying, ‘The world is boycotting us, we need to withdraw from Judea and Samaria.’ Snap out of it. We need to deal with our problems, but we don’t need to sow unnecessary and unsubstantiated hysteria.”

Three Western ambassadors have told The Jerusalem Post the same thing over the last week, all of them saying that there was no talk about a boycott of Israel, and that the opposite was true: European businessmen and companies were eager not only for Israeli investments and to do business in Israel, but also to partner with Israeli firms – because of their business culture and innovations – in joint ventures in third countries.

One European ambassador said that his country was willing to cooperate with Israel in every possible field.

Even if US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to restart negotiations fail, the ambassador said, his country was “more than willing to cooperate with Israel in all possible areas.”

Spain, for instance, is a country which in the past has been highly critical of Israel’s policies and whose public opinion is considered pro-Palestinian. Yet Spain is vying with China to win the not-yet-released tender to build a high-speed train from Eilat to Beersheba.

Not only is a European boycott of Israel completely unlikely, say Western diplomats, but even the move to label settlement goods should not be seen as a boycott, and is explained to Israelis as an effort at ensuring full disclosure to consumers regarding where their products are coming from.

Israel, as Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin made clear in a meeting earlier this week to German Development Minister Dirk Niebel, is concerned that labeling the products could lead to their boycott, something that would adversely affect the Palestinian economy – since some 22,500 Palestinians work in plants and firms in the settlements. If these companies move within the Green Line, he said, these jobs would be lost.

Elkin presented Niebel with a paper saying that “employment in Jewish settlements constitutes a significant part of the total employment of young Palestinians” aged 18-29.

“The potential annual income of Palestinians working in Jewish settlements totals NIS 1 billion (over $277 million),” the document read. “This income is a crucial source of capital for Palestinian residents of the West Bank and for the Palestinian Authority’s economy. It is the equivalent of nearly 9 percent of the total annual budget of the Palestinian Authority in 2012, which amounted to $3.1b.”

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