Homeland security, scientific cooperation and Middle East peace were the key
topics in individual discussions that President Shimon Peres held on Tuesday
with five new envoys following the presentation of their credentials.
quintet consisted of Croatian Ambassador Pjer Simunoviç, Swiss Ambassador
Andreas Bau, Indian Ambassador Jaideep Sarkar, Belgian Ambassador Count John
Cornet d’Elzius and Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto.
papal nuncio conveyed the greetings of Pope Benedict XVI. Peres replied that he
was happy to see that the pope was tweeting regularly.
If he were to
tweet back, said Peres, his message would be: “We have the highest level of
relations between Israel and the Holy See.” Later in the day, Peres sent a
message by Twitter to the pope, welcoming him to the Twitter
Peres recalled that in 1993, when he was foreign minister, he
had become involved in dialogue with the Vatican with regard to the signing of a
treaty regarding property taxes and the status of the Church in Israel. The
treaty is only now on the way to being finalized, explained Peres, because
Israel realized that if it gave special privileges to the Church it would have
to adopt the same policies with regard to all faiths, and the fine details of
that had to be worked out carefully.
Israel is doing everything possible
to ensure that the Christian community has complete freedom of worship, which is
not an easy thing in the Middle East, said Peres. “We want all religions to be
free to worship in their own way without interference.”
that he hoped to be able to make positive contribution to the dialogue between
Israel and the Holy See, and suggested that the best way to do this was to look
for common ground and from this path to work together toward peace.
told him that there has been a new attempt by the heads of three monotheistic
faiths to make peace not only among governments but among people. Israel’s chief
rabbis along with the heads of the Christian and Muslim communities are
participating in this venture, “and the tone is positive,” the president
In his conversations with the other envoys, Peres made the point
that security is no longer a matter of clashes between state parties, but has
become the prerogative of terrorists who pose a threat to every country in the
For this reason he explained, there has to be increased bilateral
and multilateral cooperation on matters of homeland security.
areas of cooperation, Peres gave priority to scientific cooperation as an
engineer for economic growth.
Simunoviç said that he sees tremendous
potential for cooperation with Israel on several levels, and noted that Israeli
hi-tech companies operating in his country have already provided many jobs for
Simunoviç visited Israel many times in his previous
capacity as assistant foreign minister, and the Foreign Ministry’s national
coordinator for NATO, and before that as state secretary in Croatia’s Defense
Simunoviç said he felt honored and privileged to be serving in
Israel: “I grew up thinking of Israel as the miracle in the desert.” He also
said that security and peace for Israel is the linchpin of Croatia’s foreign
Peres congratulated Simunoviç on Croatia’s upcoming accession to
the European Union next July.
“For us it was a strong strategic ambition
to become the 28th member of the EU,” Simunoviç said with
Bau was a medical doctor before entering his country’s
foreign service. He decided 20 years ago that medicine was not the right career
for him, and he really didn’t like hospitals.
He came to Jerusalem with a
request from his country’s President Eveline Widmer- Schlumpf for a bilateral
meeting when Peres attends the world economic Forum in Davos next
Peres said that despite certain disagreements stemming from
Switzerland’s basic foreign policy, relations between the two countries have
improved. Acknowledging the divergent views, Bau said that they should be
addressed with openness, transparency, respect and understanding.
meetings between the foreign ministers of the two countries, he said, 12 areas
of cooperation had been defined, the most common of which was the fight against
Bau said that Switzerland welcomed the cease-fire that put an end
to the recent Gaza conflict, and saw the two-state solution as the only viable
way to peace in the region. As for the upgrading of the Palestinian status at
the United Nations, Bau voiced the hope that it would serve as a catalyst for
the relaunch of talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
of settlements is not constructive, he said.
He asked Peres to suggest a
way in which peace negotiation’s could be resumed.
formula was to forget about mutual accusations and recriminations and to simply
Bau was also interested in the president’s views on other
Middle East developments.
Peres said that as an outcome of the
revolutions in various countries dictators have been removed, but the economies
have not changed because women have not been given equal rights. If women were
given equal rights, they could make a significant contribution to economic
security, he said.
Israel’s basic wish, he said, is for the Arab nations
to be successful in modernizing themselves and escaping poverty.
welcomed Sarkar as the representative of “the largest democracy on earth” and
said that India could serve as a role model for countries of the Middle East on
how to emerge from poverty and to become a major country with a great economy
and political strength. He also commented on India’s excellent scientific
record. But what impressed him most was how a nation with a population that
comes from so many faiths and traditions can live together in harmony. “India
demonstrates both depth and strength of tolerance,” said Peres.
replied that India is striving for economic and social salvation within a
“Within a generation we can banish poverty from our
land and serve as an example to other countries as a people of different faiths
and cultures working and living in harmony,” he said.
Sarkar said that
India and Israel were two countries working together to further global peace.
Commending Peres for his many years as a peace activist, Sarkar said: “It takes
courage to walk the high road of peace.”
Cornet d’Elzius, though a career
diplomat, has also served as a counsellor to heir apparent Prince Philippe,
brought regards from King Albert II, plus an invitation for Peres to attend a
November 2013 symposium on Science and Peace to mark the beginning of the 100th
anniversary of the First World War.
Peres accepted the invitation in
principle, but said that he couldn’t tell what would happen that far ahead.
Meanwhile, he has been invited by the European Council to come to Belgium in
March, to talk about globality and the changes in norms that have resulted from
Cornet D’Elzius told Peres that King Albert had been extremely moved
last week when he inaugurated a Holocaust and Human Rights Museum opposite the
Dossin Barracks in Mechelen from which more than 25,000 Jews and 352 gypsies had
been deported to Auschwitz.
Cornet D’Elzius said that he has been very
warmly received since coming to Israel, especially by the Belgian community here
that numbers some 8,000 people.
The Belgian Association in Israel
organized a reception for him that was attended by retired officers of the
Belgian Army who are now living in Israel. Among them were two 92-year-old
soldiers who helped liberate Belgium during World War II.