Why no presidential visit to Israel?
The international community has mixed views on Israel’s clash with other Middle Eastern countries. Israel was created in the aftermath of the Holocaust, during which more than six million Jews were killed by the Nazis, but its armed military and police forces now suppress the Palestinians. During my business trip last month, an Israeli civil servant told me that peace could not be established because Palestine does not recognize Israel.
There is no need for Korea to be involved in the conflict. Our interests should be based on a thorough analysis of the situation in the Middle East.
Some 30 years ago, petroleum producers in the Middle East were influential. Oil importers were concerned about the “Arab Boycott,” in which companies with Israeli ties would be denied. But the shale gas revolution has pushed oil prices down, and the international situation in the Middle East has changed drastically. After the nuclear deal in July between the United States and Iran, hostilities have lessened. Israel and other Middle Eastern countries seem to be almost cooperating.
The changes demand a new attitude towards Middle Eastern diplomacy. Japan, China, India, Vietnam and Turkey are aggressively using the changes in the Middle East as an opportunity to maximize their interests. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Egypt and Israel in January. Korean media only focused on Abe’s visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. But Abe was accompanied by more than 100 businessmen and promoted active business diplomacy. While Japan is highly dependent on Middle Eastern oil, rather than trying to please the petroleum producers, Abe approached Israel for its Internet and defense technology. Last year, China’s Vice Premier Liu Yandong visited Israel to seek expansion of the Chinese business presence there. Indian President Pranab Mukherjee made a state visit to Israel last month.
Unlike the international trend of actively pursuing relations with Israel, Korea’s foreign policy is outdated, focusing only on petroleum producers. President Park Geun-hye’s four-country Middle Eastern tour in March was limited to Arab countries that export oil and import our nuclear plants. She did not expand diplomacy to Israel. The routine “diplomatic bureaucracy” is insensitive to the changes in the world.
Diplomacy needs innovation. The fixed foreign policy is not only outdated, but also harms national interests. Since Korea and Israel established ties in 1962, Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Korea in 2010 for the first time. But the Korean president hasn’t made a return visit. Now, the Korean president needs to pursue more confident Middle Eastern diplomacy. President Park likes to advocate the creative economy. How about she innovate our relationship with Israel?
The author is a deputy editor of the JoongAng Sunday.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 16, Page 34
by CHANG SE-JEONG