Grapevine: Diplomatic circle?

AS OF YET, there are no diplomatic relations between Israel and Taiwan, but that did not stop MK Shaul Yahalom, who is co-chairman of the Israel-Taiwa

AS OF YET, there are no diplomatic relations between Israel and Taiwan, but that did not stop MK Shaul Yahalom, who is co-chairman of the Israel-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship League, and Tommy Lapid, head of the Opposition in the Knesse t, from bestowing the title of ambassador on Charles Teng, the representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv. Although there were several other MKs present at the Republic of China's national day reception, there were none f rom either Labor or Likud.

Lapid, who has visited Taiwan as well as the Chinese mainland, said that he had been surprised to see how many Taiwanese investors were in Shanghai. Urging that Taiwan enhance its economic relations with Israel, Lapid, a form er justice minister, apologized for his inability to attend the reception in the capacity of a representative of the government. Addressing himself to Teng, he said: "If you can invest in Shanghai, why can't you invest in Jerusalem?"

The fact of the ma tter is that economic relations between Taiwan and Israel are very good and improving all the time. Bilateral trade in 2004 broke the billion-dollar barrier, Teng pointed out, and stood at $1.86 billion with an $89 million surplus in Israel's favor. Figur es for the first nine months of 2005 indicate that results will be even better this year. Lapid said that he was proud to speak for all groups who believe in the independent Republic of China, but noted that there were many areas in which Israel and Taiwa n could cooperate without touching on sensitive diplomatic issues between the two Chinas.

The paucity of diplomats attending the reception indicated just how sensitive those diplomatic issues are. Costa Rican Ambassador Noemy Baruch was there, a s was Victor Manuel Barletta, the Ambassador of Panama. Other diplomats present were of lower rank. Baruch said that her country has diplomatic relations with Taiwan but not with China, and said that in general, Latin American countries did have re lations with Taiwan.

CHILEAN AMBASSADOR Sally Bendersky is all smiles these days. The reason is her new Sabra grandson, who will soon respond to the name Gabriel. The infant is the progeny of Bendersky's son and his wife, who live perman ently in Israel.

CARRYING ON a tradition initiated by former ambassador Ali Yihye, so far Israel's only ambassador from the Arab sector, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director-General Ron Prosor, together with Acting Deputy Director-Gen eral for the Middle East Ya'acov Keidar and senior ministry officials, feted the Muslim members of diplomatic corps in Israel last week for the Iftar meal at the end of the daily Ramadan fast. Participants included Egyptian Ambassador Muhammad Assem Ibrahim, Mauritanian Ambassador Ould Teguedi Ahmed, Jordanian Charge d'Affaires Nadif Omr, and their staffs.

Prosor welcomed the guests with the traditional greeting of "Ramadan kareem" and wishes for a good New Year 5766, in accordance with the Hebrew calendar. Noting this year's coinciding of Rosh Hashana and the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, Prosor emphasized the significance of a gathering of Jews and Muslims during a month that is holy to both religions. He also noted the necessity for all the nations in the region to unite in a joint struggle against the threat of armed Islamic fundamentalism.

ROSH HASHANA also coincided with German Unity Day. "When we saw the dates on the calendar," said German Char ge d'Affaires Cyrill Nunn, "we knew immediately which celebration could be postponed."

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR Genady Tarasov wished everyone a G'mar Hatima Tova. He claimed his Hebrew doesn't go much beyond that. But since it's a w ell known fact that Russian diplomats are very highly trained, it's a safe bet to assume that if he felt inclined, Tarasov could hold his own in a Hebrew conversation.