Japan PM on 3-day trip to Israel, West Bank

 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe flew into Tel Aviv on Sunday at the start of a visit hailed by Israel as an opportunity to boost economic ties.

Jerusalem: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe flew into Tel Aviv on Sunday at the start of a visit hailed by Israel as an opportunity to boost economic ties.

The three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories is part of the final leg of a six-day tour of the Middle East, aimed also at promoting regional stability and peace.

The visit "gives us an historic opportunity to bring together the great capabilities of the people of Japan and the people of Israel," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Abe in Jerusalem.

"I think there are many economic areas, technological areas and other areas in which we can cooperate," Netanyahu added.

Travelling with Abe is a 100-strong delegation of government officials and top business executives from Japanese firms which are world leaders in their field.

It is the first visit by a Japanese prime minister to Israel in nine years, and Netanyahu told his cabinet it was an opportunity to continue its economic efforts in Far Eastern markets, including China and India.

The reach to the east comes due to Israel`s desire "to decrease our dependence on certain markets in western Europe," Netanyahu said.

"Western Europe is undergoing a wave of Islamisation, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. These waves are washing over it and we would like to ensure that the State of Israel will have varied markets around the world."

Abe, who was re-elected last month, began his trip in Cairo where he pledged $2.5 billion in humanitarian and development aid for countries affected by the Islamic State jihadist group in Iraq and Syria.

In Israel, he will hold talks with Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin on Monday before heading to the West Bank to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Tuesday.

Abe is expected to call on both Israel and the Palestinians to find a way to resume peace talks which collapsed nine months ago, the embassy said.

He was also to urge Israel to refrain from any actions or remarks which would escalate the confrontation with the Palestinians.

Abe`s arrival comes just two days after the International Criminal Court said it would open a preliminary probe into possible Israeli war crimes following a complaint filed by the Palestinians.

The move was roundly denounced by both Israel and Washington, and Netanyahu is reportedly planning to discuss the move with Abe.

Japan is both a party to the ICC and its biggest financial backer. According to figures to June 30, 2014, Tokyo contributed 20.4 million euros ($23.6 million) to the court`s yearly budget which totalled 121.6 million euros.

After Japan, the biggest contributors were Germany (13.4 million euros), France (10.5 million) and Britain (9.7 million).

Israel has pledged to lobby its allies to cut off funding to the court.

Israel is also lobbying Canada over the ICC move in talks with visiting Foreign Minister John Baird. Last year, Canada contributed 5.6 million euros to the court`s budget.

On January 2, the Palestinians applied to become a party to the ICC in a process that will take effect in early April.

They simultaneously recognised the court`s jurisdiction to retroactively cover a period including the Gaza war, prompting the court to begin a preliminary examination.

Last May, Netanyahu visited Japan for a five-day trip which was heavily focused on boosting the hi-tech trade between the two countries.

At a Sunday night economic forum in Jerusalem with Abe, Netanyahu reiterated that Israel "must diversify its markets to include Japan and the other great economies of Asia".

Stressing Israel`s innovation and heavy investment in cyber security, Netanyahu said that "we`ve barely scratched the surface of the potential for cooperation in our relationship."

Israeli exports to Japan in 2013 constituted about 0.1 percent of its total imports.