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international development

Minister of International Cooperation Julian Fantino responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons Wednesday December 5, 2012 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Canada and Israel have drawn up a pact to work together on international development and aid projects, further strengthening ties between the two countries at a time when Israel faces increasing international isolation.

Daniel Carmon, head of Israel's agency for international development, and Julian Fantino, Canada's International Co-operation Minister, met in Ottawa Tuesday to sign the new agreement. Mr. Carmon said the deal will encourage the two countries to share strategies for international development and could lead to partnerships on specific projects.

"We have obligations as developed countries ... to not sit idle and see people in the developing world suffer or not get the education or the health or the most basic human rights and other rights that every human being should receive," he said.

The agreement comes after Israel earned a rare rebuke from some of its closest allies – including Canada – over its decision to build settlements east of Jerusalem. Canada previously backed Israel's use of air strikes in Gaza last month and campaigned against a vote to give Palestine status as a non-member observer state at the United Nations. That vote passed 138 to nine, leaving Canada part of a minority of countries that voted with Israel.

Mr. Carmon said Israel "has a lot to contribute" to the world, but admitted that the country struggles to work through multilateral institutions like the United Nations, where he once served as a deputy ambassador for Israel.

"Israel has been maltreated in some multilateral fora," he said. "Since it has been a very complicated arena for us, we have not been as active in this multilateral world for many years and we are sort of coming back to the stage in recent years. And we are very active and we are relying on our good friends."

He said Israel is eager to share its expertise in research and innovation with developing countries, as well as its success in agriculture. Earlier this year, Canada and Israel agreed to increase co-operation on agriculture. They also have memorandums of understanding between their space agencies and on industrial research.

Canada and Israel each have similar international development agreements with several other countries. But while Canada has faced some criticism over its unwavering support for Israel, it still has a reputation as a good global citizen, something that could help boost Israel's work in the developing world.

The Canadian International Development Agency declined to comment on the memorandum of understanding, and Mr. Fantino's office had not responded to questions about the agreement by late Tuesday. But in an announcement circulated by the Israeli embassy, Mr. Fantino is quoted as saying the two countries share a "bond of friendship and are allies in the democratic family of countries." He added that greater co-operation between CIDA and Mashav, Israel's aid agency, will help those most in need and contribute to "a more secure and prosperous world."

Mr. Carmon was in Ottawa to participate in a multi-day meeting of scientists and development experts hosted by Grand Challenges Canada, a federally funded group that works on global health, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Fantino announced CIDA would partner with Grand Challenges to bring more ideas for health innovation to the developing world. He also touted Canada's contribution to maternal and child health through its landmark Muskoka Initiative and suggested the partnership would help build on Canada's efforts.

Mr. Fantino has spent the last several weeks explaining, in a series of interviews and speeches,why and how CIDA plans to increase its engagement with the private sector, a move that has led to concerns that the agency is straying from its core poverty-reduction mandate.

He called innovation in health a "critical piece of the development puzzle" – one that can involve partners from a variety of sectors, including private companies.

"Innovative responses are needed that encompass new development approaches, new partnerships and enhanced research and development," he said. "We need to encourage new ideas and new thinking."