BY RAPHAEL AHREN January 22, 2014, 6:34 am
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Israel’s chief peace negotiator Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, will attend this week’s World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, one of the globe’s most prestigious gathering of political and business leaders, including senior officials from the Arab world.
Netanyahu and Peres, who will be flying to Davos, Switzerland, on the same plane, will leave Israel on Wednesday morning. Livni is arriving directly from the United States, where she is currently trying to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are also scheduled to attend the forum, yet a meeting between them and Israeli leaders is not planned. “Would you meet with somebody who calls for your annihilation?” Netanyahu told Canadian television station CTV this week, when asked whether he was willing to meet with Rouhani. “If Rouhani said that, OK, we recognize the Jewish state; we, Iran, are prepared to have peace with Israel [and that] Israel will be here forever — that would pique my interest, in Davos or anywhere else. But so far, they say the opposite.”
Rouhani will deliver a half-hour speech about “Iran in the World” on Thursday at 11:10 a.m. (Israeli time), four hours before Netanyahu is due to address the same audience. Also on Thursday, Peres is scheduled to host a press conference, during which he will respond to Rouhani’s speech, and talk about the peace process and other regional issues.
While Netanyahu is expected to hold several meetings with political leaders, his appearance in Davos will focus on promoting Israel’s status as an economic powerhouse. “He will present the Israeli cyber-industry, which is among the world’s leaders, and will also hold a series of working meetings with heads of state and corporate leaders in order to encourage investment in Israeli high-tech and other sectors of the Israeli economy,” according to a statement released by his office.
“Israel is an exception on the Western economic scene. We have succeeded in dealing with the global economic crisis better than almost all Western countries,” Netanyahu said Tuesday. “But we cannot rest on our laurels. We need to develop new markets and new partners and this is my goal in going to Davos. My intention is to talk with leading global high-tech companies, in the cyber and other fields, in order to tell them to come to Israel, invest in Israel and create jobs in Israel. This will be good for them and good for us as well.”
On Thursday afternoon, the prime minister will address a special plenary session and deliver a speech entitled “Israel’s Economic and Political Outlook,” according to forum organizers. According to a statement published Tuesday by the PMO, his address will be headlined “Israel — Innovation Nation.”
Then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 30, 2009 (photo credit: World Economic Forum)
The prime minister is also scheduled to meet with Yahoo! president and CEO Marissa Mayer and Google’s senior vice president and chief business officer Nikesh Arora. “In both meetings, the prime minister will emphasize Israeli innovation and the technological leadership of the Israeli high-tech industry in order to expand economic cooperation with the two companies,” Netanyahu’s office stated.
Netanyahu will hold working meetings with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, “and other heads of state and government in order to advance economic cooperation,” according to his office.
US Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive in Davos on Thursday, but so far no meeting with Netanyahu or Peres has been confirmed. On Tuesday, the prime minister said he expected to meet the American top diplomat “in the coming days,” but did not specify.
Peres will conduct meetings with the president of Azerbaijan, as well as with heads of major companies such as Philips, CISCO, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Bloomberg and others.
Officially, no meetings between Israeli and Arab statesmen have been announced, yet it is not unthinkable that ad-hoc meetings with leaders from especially Sunni states will be arranged, far away from the views of the press. Because some Arab nations fear Iran’s nuclear ambitions as much as Israel, they see the Jewish state “not as an enemy, but as a friend,” Netanyahu said this week. “The Arabs, many of them, sometimes openly and sometimes in corridors and whispers, they say, ‘Israel is our friend,’ ” he told CTV.
In November, Peres spoke to 29 foreign ministers from Arab and Muslim states, via satellite, who attended a security conference in Abu Dhabi. None of the Arab leaders booed or left the room while Peres was addressing them from his office in Jerusalem, and some reportedly even applauded his comments.
Officials from the President’s Residence and the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the possibility of meetings with Arab leaders.
On Friday morning (11:00 in Israel), Peres will be presented with the “Spirit of Davos” award, “for his contribution to the success of the World Economic Forum over the past two decades,” according to the President’s Residence. During that session, Peres will also deliver a foreign policy speech about the “state of the peace process, the situation with Syria, the Iranian nuclear program and the economic and diplomatic challenges facing Israel and the Middle East.”
Later on Friday, Livni will participate in a panel discussion entitled “Overcoming the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.” According to forum organizers, the session will provide “insights on the negotiations” and discuss the impact of uncertainty in the Arab world and the role of business in supporting peace. Livni will be joined by Israeli high-tech guru Yossi Vardi and Munib al-Masri, a billionaire member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who earlier this year unveiled a new business-led effort to advance peace. Besides al-Masri, no senior Palestinian officials are scheduled to attend the conference.
At exactly the same time, three of Livni’s counterparts from the region will discuss “The End Game for the Middle East” in a separate panel discussion. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Ahmet Davutoglu and Nasser Sami Judeh — the foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey and Jordan, respectively — will talk about how “accelerated diplomacy, historical rivalries and social transformations” can be translated into stability and prosperity.