Netanyahu. Sides with Ben-Eliezer
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Photo: Ofer Amram
Lieberman. Rebuffed.
Photo: Gil Yohanan

Syria to join WTO after Israel doesn't oppose

Following Ynet report on Lieberman's stance, Netanyahu makes decision, tells Israeli representatives to World Trade Organization to withdraw Israel's opposition to Syria's membership. Minister Ben-Eliezer: It isn't out of love for Syria, but political-trade consideration

At the last minute, Israel changed its stance regarding Syria's membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided Tuesday that Israel will not vote against accepting Syria as a member of the organization in the vote to be held in Geneva.


In doing so, Netanyahu sided with Industry, Labor, and Trade Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer's position over that of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, which was published Monday night in Ynet. The foreign minister advocated for Israel to oppose accepting Syria into the organization contrary to 152 other countries, including the US, which recently withdrew its opposition.


On the eve of the vote in Geneva, Netanyahu had his doubts. His office reported that he had yet to come to a decision because an extensive discussion of the matter had not yet been held with him.


However, after Ynet's report, a short time before the discussion commenced in the WTO General Council, Israel's representatives to the organization received the following message: "Netanyahu, on the advice of Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer and his senior economic advisor Prof. Eugene Kandel, made a decision. Israel is revoking its opposition to the inclusion of Syria in the WTO."


Following Israel's withdrawal, the threat of going to a vote in which Israel would be left standing alone in its opposition against 152 other countries was also removed. As such, the organization will make do with each country announcing its lack of opposition, thus maintaining the organization's tradition of making its decisions by consensus among its members.


The US recently removed its customary opposition to Syria's inclusion in the organization, which had already twice blocked the Middle Eastern country from becoming a WTO member since 2001. Despite this, US President Barack Obama announced that sanctions against Syria as a supporter of terrorism would be in place for another year.


The American stance, similar to that of EU states and other members of the WTO, is that accepting Syria's membership at this time will move the country away from the Axis of Evil. In addition, they believe, as does Minister Ben-Eliezer under whose responsibility the Israeli delegation to the WTO operates, that Syrian commitment to WTO principles will improve the chances for political talks with Damascus.


According to Israeli sources in Geneva, the prime minister's decision was widely praised by international officials, including the director general of the WTO.


The Prime Minister's Office has yet to issue a response to the report. The foreign minister's office declined comment. Those close to Minister Ben-Eliezer said, "The decision does not stem from love for Syria, but from Israel's long-term political and trade considerations."


פרסום ראשון: 05.04.10, 15:00
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