PM said eyeing free trade deal with South Korea, sans West Bank and Golan

Netanyahu hoping to visit Seoul by end of the month to finalize pact, which would exclude settlements and East Jerusalem, TV news reports

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 14, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 14, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is readying to sign a free trade agreement with South Korea, although the pact would not include East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, or Israeli settlements in the West Bank, according to a television report Monday.

Israel has long protested against countries applying regulations that it deems discriminatory against Israeli enterprises in the contested areas.

Sources involved in the trade negotiations told Channel 13 that Netanyahu is hoping to travel to Seoul by the end of the month to ink the deal, and would also like to squeeze in a trip to Japan, which he last visited in 2014.

According to the report, Israel has in the past held back from signing the trade agreement with South Korea because of the excluding clauses. Although Israel is now prepared to sign the agreement, it will include a disclaimer stating that the paragraph excluding these territories does not alter their status in Israel’s view. Israel has used the clause in other similar agreements, including with the European Union, Channel 13 reported.

Palestinian workers on November 11, 2015, at a date packaging factory in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank. This produce will be labeled if exported to the EU as ‘Product of the West Bank (Israeli settlement)’ (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

The trade deal would be worth billions and increase Israeli exports to South Korea while reducing the cost of the country’s production for Israelis. With national elections scheduled for September 17, a trade deal could also boost Netanyahu’s campaign by bolstering his foreign policy successes.

After capturing the territories in the 1967 war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and extended Israeli sovereignty to the Golan Heights, moves not recognized by the broad international community. Palestinians want the West Bank for a future state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Syria continues to demand Israel return the Golan Heights.

Earlier this year US President Donald Trump broke ranks with the international community by recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. In 2017, the US president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

President Reuven Rivlin, who began an official visit to South Korea this week, on Monday met with his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, and the two leaders signed agreements for increased cooperation in the fields of energy and education.

President Reuven Rivlin, left, speaks to South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, July 15, 2019 (Jung Yeon-je/Pool Photo via AP)

Israel and South Korea established diplomatic relations in 1962 and Israel opened an embassy in the country in 1992.

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