Innovation Nations Promoting Stronger Relations Between The Netherlands And Israel In A Changing Middle East

Speech by the Dutch Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, Maxime Verhagen, on 14 June 2011 at the Technion in Haifa, Israel

Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen,

It’s good to be back in Israel. It has been one year since my last visit, as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the previous government. Now, I return as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation. All the more reason for me to be delighted to be here with you today. Israel is an innovation nation, a country of entrepreneurs. And this university, ranked as one of the world’s best in scientific and technical research, is a product of that pioneering spirit.

The purpose of my trip to Israel is to explore what Israel and the Netherlands can learn from each other, and how we can further strengthen our relations.

Israel and the Netherlands have maintained close relations ever since the proclamation of the State of Israel. Our ties have endured and deepened over the years, and successive Dutch governments have stood by you.

What you have achieved in this country commends respect. Today, Israel is a modern democracy founded on the rule of law. And it still is the only country in the region, so far, that can make this claim with truth.

I sincerely hope that the early signs of an Arab spring will turn out to have been portents of democracy, prosperity and peace in the Middle East. But this prospect will need hard work and dedication.

In a changing climate, the Netherlands wants to be a true friend and a practical ally. This is why the Dutch government is promoting closer relations between Israel and the Netherlands. Both political and economic.

True ally

Let me start with politics.

The Netherlands continues to support the peace process. We strongly support a realistic and pragmatic approach. And we urge the parties to immediately resume negotiations with a view to reaching a framework agreement by September.

As President Obama said on 19 May: “At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.”

In the next two days, I will meet with President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Fayyad.

I will let them know that the Dutch government remains in favour of a two-state solution with a safe, secure and democratic Jewish state of Israel and an independent, viable and democratic Palestinian state

We continue to see four clear parameters for negotiations:

First, borders should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps.

Second, adequate international guarantees must be given to meet Israeli and Palestinian security concerns.

Third, a fair and realistic solution needs to be reached for the Palestinian refugees. Their large-scale return to Israel is not a realistic option as this would jeopardize the Jewish character of the State of Israel. It would also undermine the very reason of being of a Palestinian state. The refugees should be offered an acceptable settlement, including compensation for those who will not be able to go back.

Fourth, there must be an agreement on the status of Jerusalem.

When President Abbas visits the Netherlands shortly, the Dutch government will also reiterate that Hamas can only become part of the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if it subscribes to the Quartet Principles:

  • renounce violence;
  • recognise Israel, and;
  • accept previous agreements.

At the same time, we stand ready to strengthen relations with the Palestinian Territories as well as Israel.

Let me add the following. When David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence on 14 May 1948, it was not just a sovereign state that was created but it was a Jewish state. It heralded the justified homecoming of an entire people.

This principle was recognised by the international community as early as 1917, in the Balfour Declaration. And again in 1947 in Resolution 181 of the General Assembly of the United Nations, which recommended the establishment of a Jewish state and an Arab state on the territory of the British Mandate.

The previous Dutch government supported that position, and so does the current one.

True friend

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Dutch are true to their word, but we are not a people of many words. Like you, we believe in deeds. So the question we ask is: what can we do for the peace process?

This is where the economic relations come in. The Dutch government is committed to exploring new possibilities for innovation by and cooperation between the governments, businesses and research institutions of our two countries. To us, this is both an end in itself and a means to an end, as we believe it can make a practical contribution to advancing the peace process. I explain.

As the grandson of a Buchenwald survivor, I have learned one lesson: there can be no lasting peace without prosperity. My grandfather understood that. After the war, as an alderman in the town of Sittard in the south of the Netherlands, he insisted on cooperating with local officials in Germany. Because economic relations and interdependence contribute to a lasting peace.

This wisdom guided great minds as they sought to overcome the pain and hatred left behind by a devastating war. Upon this wisdom the European Union has been built. And in spite of initial scepticism, in my own country and elsewhere, it has worked. Economic integration turned the post-war peace in Europe into a lasting peace.

So I agree with President Peres that technology is a force for peace. Equally, trade and investment are forces for peace. But a lasting peace in the Middle East requires prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians.

There is a trap to be avoided here. Peace cannot wait for growth. But peace can only last when people have food on their tables, a roof over their heads and prospects for the future.

So when I say we want to strengthen economic relations with Israel, I also mean the Palestinian Territories. We believe this will help create a peaceful and prosperous Palestinian state.

So I urge Israel to ease restrictions on Palestinian exports as announced half a year ago. As I have said repeatedly over the past four years: Israel must allow normal trade relations between Gaza and the West Bank and third countries. This is just as important for the Israelis as it is for the Palestinians.

New opportunities for business and innovation

Ladies and gentlemen,

Amidst all the news about conflicts and negotiations in the Middle East, people tend to forget that Israel is a country just like any other. Albeit a country with exceptionally entrepreneurial people and a vibrant, open and innovative economy.

I must confess that I am both impressed and puzzled. How does Israel manage to have the second highest number of start-up companies in the world after the US?! And what makes you spend so much on research and development: 4,7 per cent of your gross national product goes to R&D! More than in any other OECD country! I hope that you will let me in on the secret.

For Israel’s achievements in business and innovation are an inspiration to the Dutch government’s plans to encourage entrepreneurship and boost innovation. We are putting particular emphasis on nine top sectors of our economy. From energy, high-tech, life sciences and water to agrifood, horticulture, logistics, chemicals and creative industries.

These are sectors in which Dutch companies and knowledge institutes stand out on the world market. These are sectors where I expect to find opportunities for increased cooperation.

We can build on solid foundations. Israel and the Netherlands are long-standing partners in business and innovation. The Netherlands is amongst Israel’s five most important trade and investment partners. We are the second European destination for Israeli exports. Companies large and small have built a solid reputation in Israel.

A company like Philips Medical Systems is the leading provider of CT scanners to Israeli hospitals. It is also the first provider of a medical imaging technology called PACS, jointly developed with its Israeli counterpart Medtechnica.

There are many more examples of successful cooperation between Dutch and Israeli companies and researchers. Like the highly efficient water treatment system designed by the Dutch Aqua Explorer and the Israeli Aqwise [ekwaiz], which is about to be brought to the market.

Earlier today, I visited Better Place – by electric car. The company is now preparing an electric taxi service between Amsterdam and Schiphol airport which will become operational in 2012. Dutch companies like Extendis are interested in cooperating with Better Place to improve battery recharging time.

In research and academia, as in business, there are long-standing Israeli-Dutch ties. Some of you are well aware of this, as we have an active Technion Society that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation in the Netherlands!

Professor Golany himself is an important contact for the Society, as he helped it set up a cooperation between his Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management and the Erasmus School of Economics. Another exciting project the Society has stimulated, is joint research and cooperation on cardiovascular ultrasound techniques between Technion and the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and other members of the Israeli government have shown interest in our fifty years of expertise with natural gas. It ranges from regulation and exploitation to transportation and storage. Dutch companies and the government are open to sharing this expertise in respect of the newly discovered gas fields off the coast of Haifa and Gaza.

Finally, let’s not forget agrifood and horticulture, which are increasingly becoming high-tech sectors. In which the Netherlands stand out, as we arethe world’s second largest exporter of agrifood.

In this area, too, cooperation with Israel yields splendid results. High-tech SME Dacom, which has won one of the most prestigious innovation prices in the Netherlands, is working with Israeli universities and research institutes on groundbreaking techniques and applications in irrigation. It combines root and leaf sensors with GPS techniques to determine how much water crops need, and at what time. This has yielded impressive results at El Gilat, both in crop output and in water saving.

On the other hand, the Israeli seed development company Hazera Genetics will soon expand its activities in the Netherlands.

Last but not least, I am glad that Israel is seriously considering taking part in the renowned Dutch horticulture exhibition Floriade in 2012. This cutting-edge event, held only once every ten years, is an ideal opportunity to showcase Israeli agritechnology for the European public.

So, ladies and gentlemen, you will not be surprised when I tell you that water, agrifood and sustainable energy are on the menu for me tomorrow night. For these will be the themes of the first Israeli-Dutch Innovation Dinner, which I will be hosting. Companies and research institutes from our two countries will be looking into concrete opportunities for cooperation. Considering the can-do spirit that I sense here in Israel, I expect it will be a fruitful evening!

Ladies and gentlemen,

I see many opportunities for bilateral economic cooperation. I am pleased that Minister Shalom Simhon [Siemgon] of Industry, Trade and Labour shares my view. This is why we will sign a Memorandum of Understanding to promote cooperation in the field of science and technology.

I am glad to say that we are also witnessing a growing interest among Israeli companies in establishing their European headquarters in the Netherlands. They are attracted by our favourable tax climate, highly qualified workforce and strategic location in Europe.

We are always ready to help companies set up shop in our country. So if you have plans, please don’t hesitate to contact our people at the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency!

Let’s not forget multilateral opportunities either. The Netherlands will continue pressing for normalisation of Israel’s position in the international community and speaking up for balanced resolutions. In more technical international fora like the World Trade Organization, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the International Monetary Fund, Israel should be treated like any other country.

Concluding remarks

Ladies and gentlemen,

To conclude. The Dutch government is committed to investing in stronger political and economic relations between Israel and the Netherlands.

In January 2012, we hope to inaugurate the Dutch-Israeli Cooperation Council. This is an initiative of my colleague Uri Rosenthal, the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs.

The next couple of days, I will seize every opportunity to discuss possibilities of strengthening economic relations between Israel, the Netherlands and the Palestinian Territories. As I said, economic peace is no substitute for real peace. But stepping up economic ties can definitely advance the cause of peace.

I plan to come back next year with an economic mission that will strongly focus on innovation.

I am convinced that we can learn a lot from you here at the Technion. Not only do you deliver outstanding research, but also you translate science into concrete services and products. I must say that I am envious of the number of start-up companies that emerge from this great university! And I hope that the Technion Society of the Netherlands will continue to grow.

I would like to conclude with an appeal to you, the academic and business leaders of today and tomorrow. Governments facilitate, encourage, assist. We create the conditions. But you are the ones taking action on the ground. You are the ones who innovate and invest, trade and reach out to new partners. You make research and business cooperation work. And you can help lay the groundwork for peace, too.

As a true friend and a practical ally, we are reaching out to you. Let’s work together for a better future for our countries and our neighbours.

Thank you.