A View from Israel: Year of the dragon?

This week marked 20 years of diplomatic relations with both India and China as they are becoming increasingly important on the world stage

By ISRAEL KASNETT
January 27, 2012 16:51
Dragon

Dragon 521. (photo credit: Courtesy/MCT)

 
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This week marked 20 years of diplomatic relations with both India and China.

Both countries are becoming increasingly important on the world stage, especially as China edges toward becoming the world’s largest economy as well as a world leader in numerous fields.

On October 14, in a speech to the Economic Club of New York, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged the US’s new focus on Asia, announcing “the world’s strategic and economic center of gravity is shifting east.”

In an article in this month’s Foreign Affairs, titled “Balancing the East, Upgrading the West: U.S. Grand Strategy in an Age of Upheaval,” Zbigniew Brzezinski, US national security adviser from 1977 to 1981, outlines the steps he believes the US must take to maintain its strategic role in the world order.

He writes, “Today, with distance made irrelevant by the immediacy of communications and the near-instant speed of financial transactions, the well-being of the most advanced parts of the world is becoming increasingly interdependent. In our time, unlike 1,500 years ago, the West and the East cannot keep aloof from each other: their relationship can only be either reciprocally cooperative or mutually damaging.”

And Israel recognizes this as well.

In Between East and West: Israel’s foreign policy orientation, 1948-1956, author Uri Bialer points out that “Pressing diplomatic, military and demographic circumstances dictated that Israel follow a global policy of ‘knocking on any door.’” He continues, “Gradually, however, this posture started to weaken. Sometime during the phase of the Korean crisis of 1950 Israel moved towards a de facto alignment with the West.”



But times have changed and the winds have shifted east. Over the past 20 years, Israel has slowly developed ties with India and China on the economic, diplomatic and military fronts, though there are still significant differences in the approach to foreign policy.

S. Samuel C. Rajiv, in an essay titled “The Delicate Balance: Israel and India’s Foreign Policy Practice,” writes how “India’s foreign policy interactions with Israel are marked by a political discreetness which is in contrast to its prominent political engagement with the Palestinians and countries of the Arab world. India plays down its robust defense engagement with Israel, censures Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians, supports Palestinian-related resolutions at multilateral forums like the UN, differs strongly from Israeli policy on issues such as Iran’s nuclear program while being opposed to the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons capability.”

In “India-Israel partnership: convergence and constraints,” an essay for the Middle East Review of International Affairs, Harsh V. Pant writes, “India cannot ignore the sentiments of its substantial Muslim populace of about 140 million that are overwhelmingly against Israel’s policy regarding the Palestinians. Fear of alienating its Muslim population has been a major factor that prevented India from normalizing its relations with Israel for decades. India has also been a strong supporter of Palestinian self-determination...India needs Israel as a political and military partner but without being pushed into any new confrontation with the Islamic world.”

India is a strong potential trade partner for Israel and both countries would benefit greatly from bilateral ties. Regardless, India has domestic concerns and though India voted in favor of a UN resolution endorsing the Goldstone report in November 2009, Israel should continue to focus on fostering ties and building a stronger relationship.

China is a formidable player in the global arena. The country has become Israel’s third largest export market with increasing bilateral trade. Since 1979, China has conducted major arms deals with Israel although in recent years the US has blocked such transactions as it sees them as a direct threat to its strategic interests in the region.

Aside from military interests, Israel and China can continue to develop economic ties, especially with regard to technology as both countries are world leaders in this field.

As an example, a group of Chinese dairy farmers and experts recently completed an advanced study program here. The dairy market in China is growing quickly and there is a huge demand for milk and dairy products. The trainees studied advanced technologies to increase milk production and improve efficiency.

These types of collaboration would greatly enhance Israel’s relationship with China as well as other countries. But, like India, China has domestic concerns and with its insatiable energy needs, China will buy oil from anyone, including Iran. In the coming years, Israel will also need to take into account the growing level of hostilities between the two countries as they compete for world markets.

Naturally, besides India and China, Israel has for years been developing ties with other countries around the globe. In July 2009, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman went on a 10-day visit to South America, visiting Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Colombia.

And in September 2009, Lieberman visited Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda, where he met with the leaders of these countries and signed a series of political, economic and development cooperation agreements. He also inaugurated joint projects between Israel and the African host countries.

Israel’s ties with the Sub-Saharan African countries date from the mid-1950s. By the early 1970s, Israel maintained full diplomatic relations with 33 countries there.

In the mid-1990s, Israel became the first non-European country to be associated with the European Union’s Framework Program for Research and Technical Development.

Although the new president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, has confirmed that relations with Israel will remain frozen until there is movement on the peace process, and although a classified paper produced by European embassies here recommended that the EU should consider Israel’s treatment of its Arab population a “core issue, not second tier to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict,” when Palestine was admitted to UNESCO as a full member in October 2011, five EU members states were among the 14 countries that joined Israel in voting against (the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden).

And on Monday, the EU approved an embargo on oil imports from Iran and placed sanctions on Iran’s central bank.

Clearly, Israel’s strong diplomatic ties with the EU and these individual countries is of great value in the international arena.

Due to steady but quiet diplomacy, relations between Israel and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are becoming increasingly close, especially in economic matters, culture and tourism.

One of the main avenues Israel can and should pursue is the initiation of economic ties with as many countries as possible. Nothing promotes ties between two countries more than trade, and it is through such cooperation that Israel may be able to win friends and support on diplomatic issues as well.

While Israel may not win every battle in the international arena, it can continue to foster strong and lasting relationships with most countries – even those that appear hostile. Yet at the same time, the idea of Israel maintaining diplomatic relations with every country in the world sounds utopian and, in fact, Israel would be faced with an extremely complex balancing act since, in attempts to satisfy one nation’s interests, it would undoubtedly harm another’s.

Hopefully, with great effort and a bit of good fortune, Israel will continue to forge strong ties and lasting strategic relationships with more countries as a way to foster mutual understanding. And this way, these countries will have the ability to see the real Israel.

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