Top Netanyahu aide: World won’t boycott our high-tech for Palestinians
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Top Netanyahu aide: World won’t boycott our high-tech for Palestinians

Recent UN resolution could lead to ‘troubling policies,’ Eli Groner acknowledges, but countries need to decide what’s in their best interest, ‘to be with Israel, or without Israel’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Eli Groner, director-general of PM Netanyahu's office,  August 16, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Eli Groner, director-general of PM Netanyahu's office, August 16, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

The international community’s desire for Israeli technology trumps its concern over the stalling peace process, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office said this week, arguing that the recent UN Security Council resolution condemning the settlements was merely a “blip” on the radar.

“Countries are going to have to decide what’s in their best interest: to be with Israel, or without Israel,” Eli Groner told The Times of Israel in his Jerusalem office. “And I have no doubt that for the vast majority of the Western world — and perhaps more importantly, the less developed world that wants to become more Western — Israel is part of the solution, and they’re going to prefer the package deal with Israel to the package deal without Israel.”

Since joining the PMO in May 2015, Groner has participated in countless meetings Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has conducted with leaders of countries and multinational companies.

“I am of the strong belief, based on my two years here at the Prime Minister’s Office and my participation in many meetings, that these countries want to work with Israel, with all the risks that that entails. They prefer working with us than working without us.”

Groner, who grew up in upstate New York and moved to Israel when he was 15, said he shares Netanyahu’s vision that the automatic anti-Israel majority at the UN will disappear in the coming years. The recent Security Council vote in favor of Resolution 2334, which harshly criticized Israel’s settlement policy, does not change the trajectory that the world is increasingly embracing the Jewish state, he contended.

“I believe that when history unfolds you will see that this was a blip on the radar screen,” he said of the December 23 resolution, which was approved 14-0 with the United States abstaining.

“These countries want economic cooperation with Israel. And just like you can’t fight the laws of gravity, you can’t fight the laws of economic gravity. We know what these countries want, we know what they need and we know that we can provide them with that. It’s becoming very clear to them that Israel is part of the solution and not part of the problem.”

‘Resolution 2334 lays the groundwork for troubling policies that can ensue, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen’

Security Council Resolution 2334 determined that the settlement enterprise “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law” and called for a complete end to all construction in areas Israel captured during the 1967 Six Day War, including East Jerusalem. It also urged all states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967” — language some fear will lead to a surge in boycott and sanctions efforts.

Groner did not deny that the text has worrisome elements but maintained that Jerusalem knows how to overcome them.

“The prime minister’s reaction to the Security Council resolution is a reflection of concern,” Groner said. “But we have a crack diplomatic leadership and we’re doing everything we can to fight this decision. We think it was very bad decision. We think it lays the groundwork for troubling policies that can ensue, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Netanyahu, who has curtailed ties with the 14 countries that supported Resolution 2334, said he plans to work with the incoming US administration to “either repeal the resolution at the UN or change it.”

Eli Groner, director of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, addresses journalists in Jerusalem on Sunday, December 4, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Eli Groner, director of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, addresses journalists in Jerusalem on Sunday, December 4, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The worlds of diplomacy and economics are melting into one, which works out in Israel’s favor, argued Groner, who had a successful career in the private sector before he entered the government.

“In the [diplomatic] meetings that I attended with the prime minister — and there have been many in the last couple of years — the vast focus is on Israeli technology,” he said. Foreign dignitaries want to know how Israel can help them fight terror and grow their economies, he said.

“We’re in a world where we’re seeing the differentiation between high-tech and lo-tech disappear. Everything is becoming technology, everything is becoming digitized. Entire industries that looked the same for 60 or 70 years are on the verge of major change: education, health care, travel.”

‘From Zion shall come forth autonomous vehicles.’

He added: “There’s a phrase, ‘From Zion shall come forth Torah.’ But you’re going to see, ‘From Zion shall come forth digital health,’ and ‘From Zion shall come forth autonomous vehicles.’ That’s what’s of interest to these people.”

Despite the public perception, the Palestinian issue plays a marginal role, if it is mentioned at all, during the prime minister’s meetings, according to Groner.

“What we’re seeing in the world is the classical words of diplomacy and economics blending,” he said. “It’s much harder today to draw a distinction between economics and diplomacy than it was 20 years ago. Today the conversations are blended, the needs are blended, and the solutions are going to be blended.”

Israel undeniably is a technological powerhouse, but it is neither unique nor irreplaceable. Isn’t Jerusalem concerned that the international community, increasingly frustrated over Israeli policies it believes prevent progress on the peace process, will at some point seek to punish Israel by looking for high-tech in different places?

It is true that Israel has no monopoly on good technology, “but they strive for the best,” Groner replied. Companies such as Apple, Google or Facebook could go elsewhere but decide to set up shop here and hire hundreds of Israelis, he added. “They don’t need Israel, but they’re all flocking here. We actually have a shortage of engineers because so many leading international conglomerates are coming here to do their R&D.”

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