Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will arrive in Israel Sunday as part of a regional tour, marking the first visit by a Japanese premier since 2006.
In addition to Abe, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird arrived on Friday for a five day visit to Israel and the West Bank. A nine-member US bi-partisan Senate delegation, led by the new Charmian of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain, will also be in Israel at the beginning of the week.
On Saturday in Egypt Abe pledged about $200 million in non-military assistance for countries battling Islamic State. In addition to Egypt and Israel, he is also visiting Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon.
“It goes without saying that the stability of the Middle East is the foundation for peace and prosperity for the world, and of course for Japan,” Abe said in Cairo.
“Should we leave terrorism or weapons of mass destruction to spread in this region, the loss imparted upon the international community would be immeasurable,” he said.
Highlighting his concern, Abe told a meeting of the Japan-Egypt Business Committee that Tokyo would provide non-military financial backing for countries fighting Islamic State.
“I will pledge assistance of a total of about 200 million U.S. dollars for those countries contending with ISIL, to help build their human capacities, infrastructure, and so on,” said Abe.
The Middle east is a vital region for Japan because of its energy needs.
In addition to the $2.2 billion in assistance Japan pledged for the Middle East two years ago, Abe said his government would provide another $2.5 billion in non-military assistance in fields such as humanitarian assistance and infrastructure.
“The Middle East ... that’s the region endowed with great possibilities,” said Abe.
“And yet now it appears to be no exaggeration to say that the region is exposed to a challenge that is among the most serious in its modern history.”
Japan will provide Egypt with $360 million in loans for projects including an airport and a power grid in a country suffering from an energy crisis, Abe said.
“These are intended to contribute to Egypt’s development, and by extension, to widening the foundation for stability across the entire region,” he added.
“Japan believes that the day will come in the near future when we can recognize Palestine as a state,” said Abe.
“In order for that day to arrive sooner, we will appeal to both Israel and Palestine to resume negotiations to advance the so-called two-state solution.”
Abe's visit comes two weeks after the cabinet approved a plan to strengthen economic ties with Japan and the investment of “tens of millions of shekels” over the next three years to make it possible.
While a Japanese prime minister has not been to Israel since 2006, then prime minister Ehud Olmert visited Japan in 2008, as did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last May.
Abe will be accompanied by more than 100 government official and business leaders including some of the heads of Japan's largest companies looking at business possibilities in Israel. Expanding the bilateral economic ties between the two countries is expected to be one of the main agenda items when Abe meets Netanyahu.
Israel is making a concentrated attempt to significantly increase trade ties with Japan, which – after China and the US – is the third largest economy in the world. Despite its size Israel exports to Japan have been stagnant in recent years and amounted to only $720 million in 2013, or only about 1.3 percent of all Israel’s commercial exports.
In order to improve the trade, the plan approved recently in the cabinet called for the opening of an Israeli trade office in Osaka, increasing the number of commercial attaches in Tokyo, increasing joint research grants by 50% in 2015, increasing space cooperation, and promoting plans to increase Japanese tourism by 45% in two years.
During Abe's visit Israeli firms are expected to demonstrate various technological developments that could be used at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, meanwhile, arrived Friday and is also scheduled to meet Netanyahu on Monday, as well as visit the Palestinian Authority and meet with Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Affairs Minister Riad Malki and former prime minister Salam Fayyad.
PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed Baird with an op-ed in Canada's The Globe and Mail
under the headline. “It is John Baird who needs to apologize to the Palestinian people.”
In the piece, Erekat slammed Baird for his strong support of Israel, saying Baird “should apologize for his active encouragement of Israel’s brute and ugly occupation and its apartheid policies. He should apologize for failing to promote those things Canadians hold dear such as freedom, dignity and human rights and for replacing those ideals with an outspoken support of Israel’s clear and undisputed violations of international law.”
Baird, in a statement released before his arrival in Israel, said “Canada deeply values its close ties with Israel and looks forward to continuing to strengthen our partnership on security, diplomacy and trade. Our friendship is based on shared values, and we are ambitious about what more can be achieved together."
Reuters contributed to this report.