It is somehow ironic that on the very day that Israel is sending 150 South Sudanese
migrants back to South Sudan, and on the verge of deporting a much larger number of migrants, President Shimon Peres hosted a state reception for the representative
of another African country.
President Alassane Dramane Ouatttara, who is
President of the Ivory Coast or the Cote d'Ivoire as the Iborians prefer to call
it, is on a state visit to Israel. An economist by profession, he spent five
years as deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund
Prior to his stint in Washington, Ouattara served as his country's
prime minister. Peres has also served as his country's prime minister, and
although he did not work for the International Monetary Fund, one of the many
positions he held in Israel was that of Finance Minister. With so many
commonalities, the two men had much to talk about during their working meeting
following the official reception.
Later in the day, Peres hosted a
luncheon for Ouattara at the King David hotel..
The Ivory Coast has been
beset by severe security problems and human rights abuses Ouattara is trying to
restructure his country into a modern democracy, and is seeking Israel's
cooperation in helping to speed up development.
Ouattara is combining a
state visit with participation in the Presidential Conference Facing Tomorrow
which opens in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Ouattara will be the keynote speaker at
Wednesday's plenary session on 'The World Economy – Will it get worse before it
gets better?" Although he is one of several heads of state participating in the
conference, he is the only one who is also paying a state visit 50 years after
the state visit in 1962 by President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who at that time,
signed a cooperation agreement with Israel.
Reflecting on the period,
Peres said that he was the only person present who was old enough to remember
it. Houphouet-Boigny, was a great admirer of Israel's development and technology
as is Ouattara., who mentioned Israel's assistance to the Ivory Coast
particularly in agriculture. Israel also helped the Ivory Coast to develop its
tourism and its military efficiency.
notwithstanding,Houphouet-Boigny in line with the OAU (Organization of African
Unity) severed ties with Israel in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War in
October, 1973, and did not renew diplomatic relations until February 1986,
although the two countries had continued to maintain informal links.
than that, despite strong opposition, the Embassy was to be located in
Jerusalem, thereby ignoring the United Nations Security Council 1980 resolution
that called on all member states to remove their embassies from Israel's
capital, which has long been a subject of international dispute. Some South
American countries were equally defiant of the ruling, but in recent years all
embassies disappeared from Jerusalem and the building owned by the Ivory Coast
is now used by the International Christian Embassy that was established largely
in protest at the diplomatic exodus.
Among those standing in n the
reception line for Ouattara was Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer,
who is a personal friend, and who had greeted him on Saturday evening at Ben
Fischer, like Ouattar, served as Deputy Managing Director
of the IMF.
Peres told Ouattara that Israel had missed the Ivory Coast
during the years in which relations had been severed, and said that he was very
glad that they had been restored.
The meeting between the two presidents
was not quite as formal as is customary on such occasions. For instance, because
of the weather, the reception line was inside the building instead of outside in
the scorching heat, and neither President made a formal speech, but immediately
sat down for an armchair chat.