Cooperative ventures in science and technology will soon supersede all other
bilateral relationships, President Shimon Peres told five new ambassadors who
presented their credentials to him on Thursday.
separately with ambassadors Zoran Basaraba of Serbia, Mihai Balan of Moldova,
Abersalom (Archil) Kekelia of Georgia, Hector Aparicio of Panama and Tahamoana
Aisea Cluny McPherson, the non-resident ambassador of New Zealand who is
headquartered in Ankara. He told each of them of his prediction that within the
next decade there will be “dramatic and sensational” discoveries that will
change the world.
Basaraba brought greetings from Serbian President Boris
Tadic, who he said is a great admirer of Peres and of the State of Israel. He
also passed on Tadic’s invitation for Peres to visit Belgrade.
not as young as some of the other ambassadors, Basaraba was arguably more
excited because he is not a career diplomat. Coming from the world of business,
he told Peres that his strength is economics and he would focus on expanding the
Israeli investment platform in Serbia.
Basaraba, who had arrived in
Israel more than a month before, was delighted to inform Peres that he had
hosted a reception in Israel to mark the anniversary of his country’s
independence, and that the festivities had been held at the Peres Center for
Peace in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
Serbia, like several other countries that were
part of the Soviet bloc, is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its diplomatic
relations with Israel. In Serbia’s case, however, the relationship was formed at
an earlier time – because the country was part of Yugoslavia, which renewed
relations with Israel in October 1991 after having severed them almost a quarter
of a century earlier. (Not long after the renewal of ties, Yugoslavia began to
disintegrate. The two remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro initially
united, then divided.) This was Balan’s second time around, having previously
spent seven years as Moldava’s ambassador to Israel and since serving elsewhere.
He was nonetheless excited to be presenting his credentials to Peres and forgot
the rules of protocol, making his presentation without waiting to be introduced
by Foreign Affairs Ministry chief of protocol Talya Lador-Fresher. Later, when
Balan sat down with Peres for a tête-à-tête, he did not wait for the president
to speak first as is customary, but launched into a long monologue that was
disrupted only by his translator.
Balan brought greetings from Acting
President Marian Lupu as well as incoming president Nicolae Timofti, whose
investiture is scheduled to take place today. He thanked Peres for Israel’s
support in Moldova’s development, which he said was very important since the
country is becoming increasingly integrated with the rest of Europe and
attempting to develop its democracy.
There are some 80,000 people of
Moldovan background living in Israel, said Balan, who credited them with
providing a bridge between the two countries. In this spirit, Prime Minister
Vladimir Filat will pay an official visit to Israel from May 14-16.
said that he was glad that Balan had opted to return to Israel and commended
Moldova for its embrace of the democratic process, expressing confidence that it
will pave the way for its reincorporation into Europe.
“We all have to
live in larger coalitions and not just in small shells,” said Peres.
Basaraba, Georgia’s 30- year-old, Kekelia is launching his diplomatic career in
He is his country’s former deputy minister for economy and
Although Georgia is celebrating 20 years of
diplomatic relations with Israel, Kekelia said the ties between the Georgian and
Jewish people extend back 26 centuries: “We have common values and a common
history of fighting for freedom and even for our existence – and today we have
an independent Jewish state and an independent Georgian state,” he
On a personal level, Kekelia has something else in common with
Israel. His maternal grandmother is Jewish, and although his great grandfather
on his father’s side was a Christian priest, this not stop his grandfather from
helping to build the synagogue in his village. Kekelia is not the only member of
his embassy with Jewish roots, nor his he the first Georgian ambassador to
Israel who can claim a Jewish mother or grandmother.
He intends to
utilize his professional background in economy, investments and tourism to boost
bilateral relations in all three areas.
Peres asked Kekelia to pass on
Israel’s appreciation for how Georgia handled the recent terrorist attempt on
In keeping with his colleagues, Panama’s Aparicio brought
greetings from President Ricardo Martinelli, who has visited Israel and whom
Peres knows well. Aparacio said that his task would be to promote fraternity
between the two countries and to enhance the historical agenda between the
Panamian and Jewish peoples.
Peres expressed appreciation for Panama’s
current goodwill towards its Jewish community and for allowing Jews who were
escaping the Nazis in the 1930s to find a haven there.
He also favorably
cited the country’s positions toward Israel in international forums.
sign of good relations, Peres noted, was an economic agreement that the two
countries will sign within the next few weeks.
New Zealand’s McPherson
was the only envoy who appeared conscious of the fact that an ambassador is not
only appointed by his own country, but has to be accepted by the host country.
Accordingly, in his remarks to Peres, he thanked the Foreign Affairs Ministry
for accepting him.
The occasion facilitated McPherson’s first visit to
Israel, and he expressed hope that it would be one of many over the next four
years. He added that he felt lucky to be taking the reins on behalf of his
government at a time when the trajectory of relations with Israel was very
Among those accompanying McPherson was prominent Israeli
businessman Gad Propper, who for about 15 years has been New Zealand’s honorary
consul in Israel. Peres, who is a long time friend of Propper’s, told McPherson
that he was in good hands.
New Zealand is one of the few countries which
the peripatetic president of Israel has not visited. McPherson told him that he
would be welcome there at any time and noted that some 7,000 Israelis come to
New Zealand each year. Peres responded that this indicated that there must be
something special about the country. While Peres mentioned that it was a bit far
to travel, he did not indicate that it was too far for him to go.
more a dream than a country,” Peres said, referring to his tenure as a shepherd
on a kibbutz as a young man.
“When I look at your pastures and your
sheep, I think ‘what a kibbutz!’” McPherson then discussed a project aimed at
enhancing person-to-person relations between the two countries, which
inaugurated a working holiday scheme. Each year, 200 people aged between 18- 30
may travel from Israel to New Zealand – and vice versa – and enjoy a year-long
holiday while working in the host country to support themselves.
month of the project being made public, McPherson added, it was fully subscribed
– and now both countries are looking into the possibility of increasing the
numbers of participants.
McPherson will return to Israel soon for the
projected visit of New Zealand’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Murray
McCully. He may also come back in April for ANZAC Day, which honors the
Australian and New Zealand Army Corps veterans who fought in World War I.