“IN Jewish history there are no coincidences”, wrote the Jewish writer and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel.
So on January 10th this year, when Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness paid a three-day visit to the state of Israel, the timing was certainly no coincidence (realpolitik in the new zeitgeist) – in a year when Israel, through its Agency for International Development Co-operation (MASHAV), has forged numerous partnerships and signed several agreements with Asian and African nations in areas ranging from biological pest control and crop protection, to dairy farming and environmental technology.
Of course, these developments beg the question: How and when does the OECS plan to forge deeper and strategic co-operation with the progressive state of Israel? Given the potential benefits in economic co-operation and diplomatic engagement, wouldn’t it be prudent for the OECS states to establish a full embassy in Tel Aviv?
I am fully aware that Dr. Charmaine Gardner has recently been appointed Honorary Consul of Israel to Saint Lucia – and I applaud this move wholeheartedly. Moreover, the Saint Lucia government has said that it hopes to develop a relationship with Israel that goes past security and agriculture – and this, indispensably, is a wise and welcome development.
Lest we forget, Israeli aid workers were on the frontline of recovery efforts in hurricane-ravaged Haiti in 2016. Following the 2010 disaster in Haiti, Jewish aid-groups provided much relief and rebuilding assistance; having in the past assisted as many as 70 countries after they faced natural or man-made catastrophes.
Considered around the world as a hotspot for agricultural and technological innovation (Agriculture in Israel is a highly developed industry), the Jewish state is home to some of the world’s leading firms in areas such as solar energy, agricultural innovation, natural pesticide and irrigation technology. Given the potential fertile grown for (strategic) co-operation in food production, natural resource management and sustainable agriculture, PM Holness landed in Tel Aviv with a spring in his step, accompanied by representatives from the National Water Commission, the National Water Resources Authority, the National Security Council as well as the Economic Growth Council. And what a reception they all got.
In a joint press conference, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked his Jamaican counterpart for his country’s refusal to support the recent UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity (there is really no free lunch in international relations these days) – before revealing that the two countries had discussed possibilities for co-operation in water, agriculture and domestic security. He cited the “natural affinity” between the two countries and stressed that the visit was a “hallmark of co-operation”.
“I think this is the first visit ever by a prime minister of Jamaica to Israel, so it has a double significance for us. I can see all the potential for co-operation in a variety of fields that relate to economy, to security, to technology. This is something that we eagerly are interested in doing with you,” Netanyahu told PM Holness in front of the Israeli media.
In a sign of growing and deepening ties between Israel and Africa, last year December saw the hosting of a major three-day agricultural conference in Jerusalem dubbed “Enhancing Sustainable Agricultural Productivity in Arid and Semi-Arid Regions”, organized by MASHAV and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The high level exchange was attended by seven ministers and many other top government officials from more than 15 Western African countries.
As the Israeli government has repeatedly stated, improving ties with Africa is one of its key foreign policy priorities. At the United Nations last year, PM Netanyahu met with more than 15 African leaders on the sidelines, having met seven heads of state on a visit to Eastern Africa two months before in the same year. While on that Africa visit, Netanyahu spoke about his country’s expertise in water technology and his government’s leading role in addressing climate change. “We are a world leader in making the use of water more efficient, therefore more energy efficient. Israel is the number one recycler of water in the world. It has the highest ratio of water efficiency in the world – 70-80%, this is thanks to innovative technologies like drip irrigation, which I know many of you are familiar with,” he stated.
Having recently gone into a partnership with an Israeli technology firm, the pharmaceutical giant Bayer has hailed Israel as a pioneer in agricultural research (including agricultural machinery), medicine and food production technology. Adrian Percy, head of Research and Development at the company’s Crop Science Division noted: “The agricultural market in Israel is ripe for ground-breaking innovation and trend-lines, with its focus on developing startups and new technologies beyond a one-time investment, shares our commitment to supporting productive and sustainable agriculture.”
Again, if all of this is happening at a time when Israel is actively seeking international co-operation, and especially when sources of development finance are drying up, then why isn’t the OECS region more proactive in deepening economic ties with Israel – a move that can see the Middle Eastern nation provide support and expertise in the fields of agriculture, agribusiness and security? Call me a purveyor of unmitigated optimism, but I can also see the OECS deepening bilateral ties with Israel in the areas of tourism, aviation, defense and investment.
One crucial area that has immense potential and promises great benefits for the OECS region is food production. Not only does Israel produce 95% of its own food requirements, it is one of the world’s leading fresh citrus producers and exporters. It’s worth noting that annually more than US$2 billion is spent by CARICOM countries on food imports, although their combined population is only six million people. If ever we needed evidence of the neglect and underdevelopment of the agricultural sector in the region, this is it.
Expectedly, for those who are inclined to bring up matters of political morality and ideological considerations into a discussion of economic realpolitik, let’s consider the advice of Henry Kissinger at the time when he vigorously pursued the interests of the United States as Secretary of State in the 70s: “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”
For comments, write to Clementsoulage@hotmail.de – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.