Coun­try ‘tough nut to crack’

First Is­raeli di­plo­mat in 53 years vis­its Malaysia

Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By HERB KEINON

Malaysia is a “very tough nut to crack,” and the South­east Asian Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­try is “not on its way to es­tab­lish­ing ties with Is­rael,” said David Roet, the first Is­raeli di­plo­mat to visit the coun­try since 1965.

Roet headed a del­e­ga­tion last week of three Is­raelis to a 20,000-strong UN Hu­man Set­tle­ments Pro­gram (UN-Habi­tat) con­fer­ence in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia, which is im­pla­ca­bly anti-Is­rael, al­lowed the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the Is­raeli del­e­ga­tion only be­grudg­ingly af­ter Is­rael ap­plied ex­ten­sive diplo­matic pres­sure that reached all the way to the of­fice of UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res.

Roet said on Tues­day that Is­rael – par­tic­u­larly its del­e­ga­tion to the UN and its em­bassy in Nairobi, which head­quar­ters Habi­tat – fought hard on the is­sue. This was be­cause by spon­sor­ing a UN-af­fil­i­ated event, Malaysia be­came ob­li­gated by its com­mit­ment to the UN to al­low par­tic­i­pants from all coun­tries

“We de­manded what was com­ing to us,” Roet said, adding that the Is­raeli ac­tions are an im­por­tant prece­dent for other coun­tries that hold UN-af­fil­i­ated con­fer­ences. The next UN-Habi­tat con­fer­ence of this mag­ni­tude will be held in Abu Dhabi in 2020.

In 2015, Malaysia came un­der a great deal of in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism for prevent­ing two Is­raelis wind­surfers from com­pet­ing in the Youth Sail­ing World Cham­pi­onships. And in 1997, Is­rael’s na­tional cricket team was met by demon­stra­tions from the Is­lamic Party of Malaysia when it par­tic­i­pated in a cricket tour­na­ment there.

Roet said the For­eign Min­istry’s pol­icy is to fight boy­cott, di­vest­ment and sanc­tions ef­forts in the diplo­matic sphere, just as it does in the eco­nomic, cul­tural and aca­demic spheres.

Roet met with se­nior of­fi­cials in the coun­try, though he said they did not deal di­rectly with Is­rael-Malaysia re­la­tions. He made clear that “Is­rael does not see Malaysia as an en­emy or a hos­tile coun­try, and that there is no rea­son the two states don’t have re­la­tions.”

Roet, who cur­rently works in the For­eign Min­istry’s North Amer­i­can di­vi­sion in Jerusalem, was up un­til a few months ago Is­rael’s No. 2 at its del­e­ga­tion to the UN. He said that in his meet­ings in Kuala Lumpur he stressed that Malaysia’s boy­cott of Is­rael does not serve the Pales­tinian cause.

“I told them that we have re­la­tions with a num­ber of coun­tries that don’t agree with us on the con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans, but with whom we main­tain good ties,” he said.

Roet said that in speak­ing against Malaysia’s boy­cott of Is­rael, he said while diplo­macy is com­plex, in some re­spects it is sim­i­lar to in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tions: “Peo­ple are will­ing to take ad­vice from peo­ple who are their friends, but not from en­e­mies. And... boy­cotting Is­rael just dis­tances Malaysia from hav­ing any in­flu­ence.”

“Did I con­vince them? I can’t say that,” Roet said. “But this is a pos­i­tive sign.”

He said an­other pos­i­tive sign was the man­ner in which the Malaysian press re­ported on the Is­raeli visit in re­cent days in a “very neu­tral” man­ner.

De­spite Malaysia’s stri­dently anti-Is­rael stance, sig­nif­i­cant trade with the coun­try ap­pears in Is­rael’s trade num­bers. For in­stance, in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tral Bu­reau of Statis­tics, trade be­tween the two coun­tries was some $1.43 bil­lion, though it dropped in 2016 to just un­der $600 mil­lion. The bulk of that trade, how­ever, is in com­puter chips be­ing trans­ferred from In­tel’s plants in Is­rael to the com­pany’s fa­cil­i­ties in Malaysia.

The other Is­raelis in Roet’s del­e­ga­tion were for­mer MK Ophir Pines-Paz, who to­day heads the In­sti­tute for Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment at Tel Aviv Uni­ver­sity, and Eran Razin, head of the He­brew Uni­ver­sity of Jerusalem’s In­sti­tute of Ur­ban and Re­gional Stud­ies.

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