05:59 GMT +316 December 2019
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    Norway Betting on Israel Despite Occupation of Palestinian Territories

    © AFP 2019 / DAVID FURST
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    Two of Israel's largest manufacturers of defense equipment are currently in talks with Norwegian companies about forming a partnership. These plans have stirred a negative reaction from Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), which condemned the Norwegian businesses for helping Israel strengthen its grip over occupied Palestine.

    The Norwegian-Israeli Chamber of Commerce confirmed that two Norwegian companies are in negotiations with two of Israel's largest manufacturers of defense equipment, Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries, about forming a partnership.

    Together, these companies employ more than 28,000 workers and provide rocket systems, surveillance technology and drones to the Israeli Defense Forces as well as other customers worldwide. The Norwegian companies are not allowed to export weapons or ammunition to Israel, but would like to cooperate with their Israeli counterparts in product development and ultimately become a sales channel for their businesses in Norway, Norwegian state broadcaster NRK reported.

    According to Israel Aerospace Industries development director Nir Salomon, the Norwegian market is "very interesting" with respect to opportunities to sell drones and unmanned aircraft for military, police or civilian uses. However, this prospective cooperation has triggered criticism from the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).

    "Through this form of cooperation, Norwegian companies will help Israel maintain its illegal occupation. This is worrying, but I'm not really that surprised. Israel does largely as it pleases with any significant consequences being very rare. Norwegian companies steer clear of the Israeli defense industry," Marte Heian Engdal of the University of Oslo (UiO) told Norwegian state broadcaster NRK.

    According to her, civilian trade between Norway and Israel is welcomed, yet defense cooperation is hotly contested.

    "The occupation of the Palestinian territories is illegal under international law. All forms of Norwegian assistance that allows the continuation of the occupation is largely unfortunate. Norwegian legislation should be used to put an end to such cooperation," Marte Heian Engdal told NRK.

    Dag Abrahamsen, the head of the Norwegian-Israeli Chamber of Commerce, admitted that the issue is "ethically challenging," yet assured that future cooperation will be civilian-only.

    "Israel is besieged by enemies. We must begin to look at Israel as a country, not just a concept. They have new technologies and companies we can benefit from, even within the defense sector," Abrahamsen said.

    Over the past two years, Norwegian-Israeli trade increased by almost 30 percent.

    "We have a conservative government which wanted to expand trade cooperation with Israel. This was positive and motivating for Norwegian industry. Israel is an attractive market because they are pioneers in a lot of areas," Abrahamsen continued, citing mutual growth within the oil and gas sector, as well as the export of salmon.

    According to Norway's ambassador to Israel, Jon Hanssen-Bauer, Norwegian industry is making inroads into the Israeli market, and the Norwegian embassy is trying to pave the way. According to him, restricting business with Israel for political reasons is no solution.

    "I think it would be distressing for Norway to limit our possibilities. We see more multinational companies establish their development departments in Israel. There is a rapid development there that Norway has great pleasure taking part in. I cannot imagine on what grounds we should refrain from doing so," Hanssen-Bauer told NRK.

    Norway was one of the first countries to recognize Israel in February 1949. Unlike its neighbor Sweden, which upset Israel when it recognized Palestine's statehood in 2014, Norway and Israel remain on friendly terms. However, Norway's Labor Party, currently in opposition, has promised to recognize Palestine as well, if it wins the next election.

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    Tags:
    Israeli occupation, arms export, NRK, Palestine, Middle East, Scandinavia, Israel, Norway
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