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Israel - Foreign Relations

The cabinet, and particularly the inner cabinet, consisting of the prime minister, minister of foreign affairs, minister of defense, and other selected ministers, are responsible for formulating Israel's major foreign policy decisions. Within the inner cabinet, the prime minister customarily plays the major role in foreign policy decision making, with policies implemented by the minister of foreign affairs. Other officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs include, in order of their rank, the director general, assistant directors general, legal and political advisers, heads of departments, and heads of missions or ambassadors.

While the director general may initiate and decide an issue, commit the ministry by making public statements, and respond directly to queries from ambassadors, assistant directors general supervise the implementation of policy. Legal and political advisers have consultative, not operational, roles. Heads of departments serve as aides to assistant directors general, administer the ministry's departments, and maintain routine contact with envoys. The influence of ambassadors depends on their status within the diplomatic service and the importance to the ministry's policy makers of the nation to which they are accredited.

In the Knesset, the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, with twenty-six members, although prestigious, is not as independent as the foreign affairs committees of the United States Congress. Its role, according to Samuel Sager, an Israeli Knesset official, is not to initiate new policies, but to "legitimize Government policy choices on controversial issues." Members of the committee frequently complain that they do not receive detailed information during briefings by government officials; government spokesmen reply that committee members tend to leak briefing reports to the media.

Israeli foreign policy is chiefly influenced by Israel's strategic situation, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the rejection of Israel by most of the Arab states. The goals of Israeli policy are therefore to overcome diplomatic isolation and to achieve recognition and friendly relations with as many nations as possible, both in the Middle East and beyond. Like many other states, throughout its history Israel has simultaneously practiced open and secret diplomacy to further its main national goals. For example, it has engaged in military procurement, the export of arms and military assistance, intelligence cooperation with its allies, commercial trade, the importation of strategic raw materials, and prisoner-of-war exchanges and other arrangements for hostage releases. It has also sought to foster increased Jewish immigration to Israel and to protect vulnerable Jewish communities in the Diaspora.

In addition to seeking an end to hostilities with Arab forces, against which it has fought five wars since 1948, Israel has given high priority to gaining wide acceptance as a sovereign state with an important international role.

Before 1967, Israel had established diplomatic relations with a majority of the world's nations, except for the Arab states and most other Muslim countries. UN Security Council resolutions provided the basis for cease-fire and disengagement agreements concerning the Sinai and the Golan Heights between Israel, Egypt, and Syria and for promoting the Camp David accords and the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty. The Soviet Union and the communist states of Eastern Europe (except Romania) broke diplomatic relations with Israel during the 1967 war, but those relations were restored by 1991.

The landmark October 1991 Madrid conference recognized the importance of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 in resolving regional disputes, and brought together for the first time Israel, the Palestinians, and the neighboring Arab countries, launching a series of direct bilateral and multilateral negotiations. These talks were designed to finally resolve outstanding security, border, and other issues between the parties while providing a basis for mutual cooperation on issues of general concern, including the status of refugees, arms control and regional security, water and environmental concerns, and economic development.

Today, Israel has diplomatic relations with 163 states. Following the signing of the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles on September 13, 1993, Israel established or renewed diplomatic relations with 36 countries. Israel has full diplomatic relations with Egypt and Jordan. In addition, on October 1, 1994, the Gulf States publicly announced their support for a review of the Arab boycott, in effect abolishing the secondary and tertiary boycotts against Israel.

Israel has diplomatic relations with nine non-Arab Muslim states and with 32 of the 43 Sub-Saharan states that are not members of the Arab League. Israel established relations with China and India in 1992 and with the Holy See in 1993.

Overall Israeli relations with the rising powers or big emerging markets like China, India, and Brazil, is forward looking and positive. The GoI recognizes these countries as major future markets for Israeli technology exports and engages them with trade missions and high-level visits. While competition exists and is likely to grow, for example with India in IT development and assembly work, where some Israeli firms have invested in production facilities, the benefits of collaboration with such large economies are understood by the private sector here. Israeli expertise in dry land agriculture, agronomic research, and water management technology is appreciated in Brazil, India and elsewhere in the developing world. Strong ties of Jews in Israel with those in the fiaspora bring many Israelis in contact with the citizens of BEM (big emerging markets) countries, and these countries can be a source of immigration.

Israeli relations with key international players are varied and growing, partly from an effort to counter the influence of perceived anti-Israeli sentiment, but also the need to develop an appreciation in these organizations for what the country offers - among them, democratic values and a vibrant, first-world economy. The country's drive for OECD membership is evidence of this. Israel is eternally in quest of support in IOs such as the UN, and cultivates a plurality of links across many issue areas, although the Israeli government has only recently begun to recognize that its influence in international organizations would be enhanced if Israel were to be perceived to be politically useful to others within those organizations rather than exclusively focused inward on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Page last modified: 03-07-2022 15:25:57 ZULU