Israeli ambassador seeks to build ties with Sask.
SASKATOON — In the wake of a newly announced partnership between Saskatchewan and Israel focused on research and development in agriculture, minerals, food security and nuclear energy, Rafael Barak, the current Israeli ambassador to Canada, visited Saskatchewan for the first time.
The former Israeli deputy foreign minister sat down with The StarPhoenix to discuss the new partnership, connections between Israel and Saskatchewan and negotiation issues between Israelis and Palestinians.
This is an edited version of the interview with Ambassador Barak.
StarPhoenix: What’s your response to the partnership between Israel and Saskatchewan?
Rafael Barak: First of all, I’m very pleased with my first visit to your province and that we can bring together more Israelis and their colleagues in Saskatchewan. I think it will be an interesting partnership, because we have challenges that are similar on issues of agriculture and issues of minerals, of energy. I think those elements are so important for your economy here, and they are also a focus point for Israel.
Hopefully we can create programs and products that will increase jobs and the economy (in both regions).
SP: What are the benefits Israel will see from the partnership?
RB: It will be a mutual benefit. To be happy, both sides should be taking some profit from it. It will open the attention and interests of Israelis to come here, to visit Saskatchewan, to discover the opportunities. In this world we live in, you have to cooperate; you cannot do things by yourself.
SP: How much do Israelis know about Saskatchewan?
RB: (Laughing) Too little. Even they have difficulty pronouncing it correctly. This is part of my challenge (as an ambassador): educating Israelis about Saskatchewan, that it’s a place they have to know.
SP: Based on your past experience as a co-ordinator in the 1993 Oslo Accord, how would you assess the current situation between Israel and Palestinians?
RB: ... (T)here are no new surprises. You already know, before someone opens his mouth, what he’s going to say.
We have been discussing compromises for many years — issues with borders, water, Jerusalem, refugees. In one way or another, we can come to a two-state solution. But, as Israelis, we need a partner that can provide the necessary exchanges we are demanding.
For us, the most important word is security. In 2005, we gave them Gaza; we removed everything and requested only one thing — security, no more rocket attacks from Gaza, and we didn’t get it. So this has a very heavy influence on the attitude of Israelis.
SP: Are there any areas you feel that Israel made mistakes or actions it shouldn’t have taken, whether militaristic or diplomatic?
RB: Definitely; every country and every human being makes mistakes. Today, 70 to 80 per cent of Israelis are ready for compromise. (Palestinians) are still on the same positions as they were at Oslo in 1993, and they are split.
Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak says both sides stand to benefit from a new Saskatchewan-Israel partnership.