(December 12, 2016 / JNS)
JERUSALEM—Does Israel’s path to peace lie in its technology and cybersecurity sector? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thinks so—and he has a new acronym to prove it.
Netanyahu spoke about his country’s place in the global high-tech arena and other issues during a recent press conference for international Jewish journalists at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The journalists gathered in Jerusalem for the four-day Jewish Media Summit, which was organized by Israel’s Government Press Office.
The prime minister addressed a variety of topics of concern to the American and global Jewish communities. He called the rise in anti-Semitism in America “a fringe phenomenon” that should be fought.
On the issue of the Western Wall agreement that allows egalitarian prayer at the holy site, which was reached earlier this year but hasn’t yet been implemented, Netanyahu said, “There was backtracking, which happens…it’s a process.” He added that it’s very difficult to separate nationality and religion in the Jewish state, “and I don’t know that we should.”
Addressing a recent Palestinian Authority (PA) push for the United Kingdom to denounce the 1917 Balfour Declaration—which supported the idea of establishing the Jewish homeland—without directly mentioning the PA, Netanyahu called the episode “very revealing about the true source of this enduring conflict. It’s not about territories, even though that’s an issue. It’s not about settlements, even though that’s an issue. It’s not even about a Palestinian state…It’s always been about the Jewish state, and the fact there’s a challenge to the Balfour Declaration 100 years later tells you that we haven’t come very far.”
Turning to trade, Netanyahu discussed what he calls TTP—“terror, technology and peace”—a play on President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement with 12 nations. The billionaire businessman has vowed to pull the U.S. out of that pact.
“Israel’s situation in the world is changing at a dazzling pace,” Netanyahu said. “And it’s just a question of time—as I’ve said in the U.N.—that this bilateral change across the continents is going to be reflected in the way countries vote in the U.N. It will happen.”
Rattling off his schedule of meetings with foreign heads of state, the Israeli leader said, “We get about one [official visit from a foreign dignitary] a day,” totaling about 250 for the year. Just last week, Netanyahu brokered a trilateral research and development deal with Greece and Cyprus. He has recently met with representatives from China, Japan, India, Russia, Vietnam and South Korea, and during the summer he traveled to four East African countries. The prime minister will soon visit Singapore, Australia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and West Africa.
“The great powers of Asia, countries of Africa and Latin America are coming to Israel, it’s happening at an unbelievable pace,” Netanyahu said.
Terror and cybersecurity
With the rise of radical Islamic terror worldwide, countries are looking to cooperate with Israel for its “vast intelligence capacity and beyond that as well” to better protect their citizens, said Netanyahu.
But it’s the country’s booming technology sector—specifically cybersecurity—that is the real difference-maker, he asserted.
“Israel is at the nexus of the great change taking place in any technology,” Netanyahu said.
Though Israel has 8 million residents—just one-tenth of 1 percent of the world’s population—it attracted more than 20 percent of global private investment in cybersecurity this year. “We’re punching 200 times above our weight,” said the prime minister.
Other areas of major growth include Israel’s accelerating driverless car technology—which has attracted automotive giants BMW, General Motors and Ford Motor Co., among others—and digital healthcare, the use of technology to improve medical care for patients.
“This is an explosion,” Netanyahu said. “And all these countries understand not only to protect themselves against terrorism, but to seize the future. Everything is becoming technologized, and Israel is a global force of technology.”
Path to peace
When meeting with foreign leaders, Netanyahu said that if they don’t bring up the Palestinian question, he does, explaining that “most of them don’t raise it, they don’t care.”
Offers by other world leaders to host direct talks between Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas on neutral territory fall apart, he said, after world leaders go to Ramallah and ask Abbas to meet without preconditions.
“We’re willing to negotiate peace immediately without preconditions, and the other side is not,” said Netanyahu. “They have strange politics there.”
Yet while the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has stagnated, Israel is quickly building other key alliances in the Arab world.
“The biggest change is right here in the Middle East, where many countries in the region understand that Israel is their partner—not their enemy, but their ally in fighting militant Islam, either by the Shi’ites led by Iran or the Sunnis lead by Daesh (Islamic State). Israel is their ally in this indispensable battle for the future. This will ultimately prove the path to peace,” Netanyahu said.
At the end of the address, the prime minister pointed to charts projected on the wall as part of his presentation, including a Gallup poll showing the breakdown of favorable attitudes toward Israel in America, 71 percent, and in PA-controlled territory, 18 percent, as well as graphs showing Israeli innovation in dairy farming production and wastewater reclamation. “Which cow produces the most milk per cow? It’s an Israeli cow—every moo is computerized,” he said.
“If you’re a country in Africa or in Asia or in Latin America, and you want to increase your dairy production or water usage or solar energy or your public health or your IT sector or your cyber security, Israel is the place,” Netanyahu said. “People understand Israel is a great force for good.”