Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Jerusalem on Monday, as Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen and Ukrainian Economic Development and Trade Minister Stepan Kubiv signed a bilateral free-trade agreement expected to increase annual trade between the two countries from $800,000 to $1 billion a year.
Netanyahu said Poroshenko’s visit—his third to Israel since entering office in 2014—was a testament to the strong ties between Ukraine and Israel, which Netanyahu said “have deep historical and cultural roots.”
“Ukrainian Jews make up a significant portion of the population of Israel. And Ukraine is home to a large Jewish community. I think it’s the fourth-largest Jewish community in Europe. I appreciate your continued efforts to eliminate hate speech and combat antisemitism in Ukraine,” said the prime minister.
Netanyahu thanked Cohen, First Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine Stepan Kubiv, and Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who chairs the Israel side of the Joint Ukrainian-Israeli Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation, for their efforts in finalizing the free-trade deal.
The prime minister said that during Poroshenko’s visit, the leaders would also discuss other ways of increasing cooperation in a variety of fields, including technology, health, aerospace and science.
Netanyahu said he and Poroshenko were “building a more prosperous future for our people. Each of us is doing it on our own, but I think that together, we can do even better.
“And as we seize the future, we must also work together to advance first innovation, technology, industry—that’s the future—but also to work against the forces that wish to drag us into the past, because we’re a part of the same civilization. And this civilization values freedom, liberty, and it values peace. And it’s under attack today, most notably by the forces of militant Islam. The most potent force of militant Islam is the Iranian regime,” said Netanyahu.
Iran, he said, was “devouring one nation after the other—Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq—and it’s killing civilians around the world.”
Netanyahu also touched on the Iranian missile strike on northern Israel on Sunday.
“Yesterday, the Iranian regime launched a missile from Syria targeting civilians in Israel. We responded to this unacceptable act of aggression by striking Iranian targets in Syria. Israel will continue to block Iran’s efforts to use Syria, Lebanon and [the] Gaza [Strip] as forward bases for attacking Israel for the express purpose which they openly declare: destroying Israel. No country should stand aside while its destruction is being planned or advanced. And Israel exercises its basic right of self-defense and pre-emptive self-defense, a right that exists for every nation. We will continue to take all the necessary actions to protect our people and defend our borders, and we will continue to respond with force to anyone that tries to harm us.”
He concluded by saying, “President Poroshenko, in your speech to the Knesset, you also said that you dreamed of a future where there is no place for violence and terrorism, and where peace, tolerance and prosperity rule. Well, I share your vision for the future, and I look forward to our discussions today. I look forward to continuing to work together to build a future that both our people cherish and both our people deserve. Welcome, friend.”
In a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin earlier on Monday, Poroshenko said he could not imagine better relations than those Kiev has with Jerusalem.
Rivlin hailed the signing of the free trade deal, which he said would deepen bilateral ties.
Commenting on Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes on Iranian and Syrian targets inside Syria, he said, “The international community must understand that the build-up of Iran[ian] forces in the Middle East could lead the region into escalation. We will not tolerate any violation of Israeli citizens’ personal security.”