Solid diplomatic foundations

Israel’s reoriented foreign policy is bearing fruit globally.

Danny Ayalon 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Danny Ayalon 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Last week could have proven very difficult for Israel. Our enemies and their provocateur partners were trying once again to damage our image and goad Israel into a confrontation.
Thankfully, diligent behind-the-scenes work with our partners in Europe and beyond saw to it that a collision was averted.
This is no simple task; individuals and small organizations are far more nimble than vast government infrastructures, and are extremely difficult to outmaneuver.
Nevertheless, what was achieved last week was not the result of last-minute diplomacy; but rather evidence of a shift in diplomacy which began at the inception of this government.
Friendships should be nurtured, but for too many years, Israel’s foreign policy was heavily focused on Ramallah. Since the formation of this government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the leadership of Avigdor Lieberman has reset Israel’s international diplomacy.
Too many parts of the world have been neglected since the beginning of the ‘Oslo Process.’ It might be astonishing to learn that until Lieberman’s visit to Brazil only weeks after attaining his position, his was the first visit by a senior Israeli official to the largest nation in Latin America since 1993. Simply put, we are playing catch up in a region neglected by past Israeli governments, while Iran and the Arab world made major inroads.
This example could be used as a paradigm for many other parts of the world. However, this is all changing.
Israel now has more embassies and consulates (many reopened after being closed under previous administrations) than ever.
In addition to strengthening diplomatic ties with multiple nations, economic relations have also been solidified: trade volume has grown, and many agreements of economic cooperation have been signed in the fields of taxation, investments protection, Free Trade Zones and the exchange of economic delegations.
Much of this is not glamorous front-page news, but it has proven vital as Israel enters an era of immense challenges, including preventing a nuclear Iran, stemming the battle against Israel’s legitimacy and working against the passage of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state at the United Nations.
While the latter appears to be almost impossible to prevent, its legitimacy is far from assured, and Israel’s message that Palestinian unilateralism will entrench the conflict and embolden Palestinian intransigence is gradually being understood.
MANY DEVELOPING nations in Africa and Asia, previously written off as part of the automatic majority against Israel, are receiving their first high-level Israeli delegations for many years.
Another factor resulting in strengthened ties in these countries is the work of MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, which has been significantly enhanced.
Part of our strategy is an attempt to decouple our relations with other countries from our conflict with the Palestinians. For too long, we allowed ourselves to be defined by the conflict, and accepted that a third party – the Palestinians – have a veto on our relations with nations around the world.
Israel’s acceptance in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), despite intense lobbying by the Palestinians, is a major achievement of this reoriented diplomacy.
Minister Lieberman has restored Israel’s dignity in its foreign relations. Our previous foreign policy was not managed with any orientation, consistency or strategic thought, causing successive political failures.
The way that past governments restrained themselves in the face of harsh verbal assaults, such as the lack of reaction when President Peres was humiliated in Davos at the beginning of 2009, led to the slippery slope of Israel-bashing as the status quo. This led to a bizarre situation whereby any serial human-rights-abusing nation in the international community could attack Israel, and Israel’s non-response was perceived as a sign of silent acquiescence.
This allowed Israel’s enemies to dramatically increase their presence in the political arena in an attempt to defeat us, when they have failed on the conventional battlefield, economically and through terrorism. To meet the political, legal, academic and cultural assault on Israel, we are pursuing a strategy of inclusion, integration and partnership.
DURING THE past few years Israel has passed United Nations resolutions completely unconnected to either the conflict or the Holocaust. Our agricultural and technological know-how, and readiness to help humanity, are heavily supported in the UN. Unprecedentedly, Israelis have served in the UN forces, earning special praise in Haiti.
Israel is signing agreements for academic exchanges and joint research with many nations, and has been accepted as a new member of CERN, the OECD of the scientific world.
If our opponents look to make us a pariah, we will become even more integrated. If they seek a boycott, we will sign more trade agreements. If they propose divestment, we will encourage greater investment. If they talk of sanctions, we will integrate further into multilateral forums.
The challenges of last week were not merely met; our success is a result of methodical, strategic work on many diplomatic levels, under a leadership which is attempting to correct many mistakes of the past.
The test of foreign policy is the results it achieves. A policy of zero tolerance for the assault on Israel’s legitimacy, coupled with the expansion and formation of new coalitions, is a long-range investment that is already proving its worth.
Jerusalem finally has a truly global foreign policy.
The writer is deputy minister of Foreign Affairs.