Envoy hints at free-trade deal for Israel’s 60th

Australian Jewish News | September 24, 2007

Envoy hints at free-trade deal for Israel’s 60th

Sharon Berger

ISRAELI Ambassador Yuval Rotem has hinted that a free-trade agreement between Israel and Australia could be finalised in time for the Jewish State’s 60th anniversary next year.

In his first official interview with the AJN, Rotem, who arrived in Canberra in July, said Israel needs to overcome some professional obstacles, but the Australian Government is keen to finalise the agreement.

Improved trade and political relations, high-ranking visits by Israeli officials and the suggestion of direct flights between Israel and Australia, are all signs of the increased importance Israel is placing on its relationship with Australia, Rotem said.

Israel and Australia “belong to a club of nations that have many things to share”, he said.

“The more we know how to utilise our similarities, our relationships can be better off.”

This includes possible trilateral cooperation between the US, Australia and Israel in the Pacific Rim, he added, following suggestions made by visiting MK Ephraim Sneh last month that Israel would be looking to boost strategic ties with its Australasian allies.

Since arriving in Australia, Rotem has already met a number of high-ranking government officials, including Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd. He plans to meet Prime Minister John Howard within the next two weeks.

Rotem dismissed concerns raised by Treasurer Peter Costello last week that a possible change in government after the Federal Election could affect Australian support for Israel.

Rather, he is also focusing his energies outside the government arena, working with NGOs to try and improve relations with a sector that has a history of hostility towards Israel.

“They are the first ones to maybe condemn Israel, if and when we happen to breach what they deem as international law. I don’t see them convening conferences and making statements against Hezbollah and the Iranians, who are breaching basically every law.”

A buoyant Rotem said this week’s parliamentary motion condemning the kidnapping of the three Israeli soldiers, was passed with no objections and in the presence of the father of one of the captives.

“You can’t ask for more, for a country to extend not just sympathy, but also work behind the scenes to see if there is a way to add one more voice to the demand.”

At 47, Rotem is the youngest Israeli ambassador ever appointed to Canberra, but the veteran diplomat, whose previous postings include New York and Los Angeles, is not fazed by the challenge of running a regional embassy.

“Here you have to be not only more fluid, but more flexible and more pragmatic, to change your agenda a few times during a term for different countries and cultures.”

To that end, he hopes to soon add an indigenous New Zealander or Australian to the embassy’s staff.

“To bring non-Jews into the embassy will just strengthen our understanding of other cultures and people.”

Rotem, who has also worked closely with both Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu, believes the appointment of a younger ambassador sends “a message that Australia is a more important place”.

Rotem presented his credentials to Governor-General Michael Jeffery on August 16. He is also non-resident ambassador of New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

source : AJN

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