President-elect Reuven Rivlin said on Wednesday that Arabs and Jews are destined to live together, while calling for “constant communication and mutual understanding” between Israel and the Palestinians.
“The residents of the Middle East, Arabs and Jews, must realize that coexistence is not a cruel fate, but rather our destiny,” he told the Jewish Media Summit at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem. “We were not doomed to live together but rather destined to live together.
It’s our mutual destiny, and we can’t live without the believe that we can get to a sort of understanding.”
Speaking in English on the final day of the conference, which began on Sunday evening, Rivlin said he had listened with great interest to the demand by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the immediate release of the three kidnapped yeshiva students.
“I see this as an opportunity to restore trust between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” he said.
Unfortunately, Rivlin noted, less than 24 hours later the Palestinian prime minister denied that the boys had even been kidnapped.
Following his election, Rivlin said, he had received a congratulatory message from Abbas.
Despite a difference of opinions that is difficult to breach, he said both he and Abbas understood the importance of direct communication.
Rivlin, who in the past has opposed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said he had met with Abbas on several occasions and knew they would meet again.
“It’s our duty to do so, to find a way to at least try to understand the position of the other side,” he said.
“Building trust between the two peoples, not merely between the leaders, is essential if we are to put to an end the tragedy that is the Israeli- Palestinian conflict,” he said.
“Constant communication and mutual understanding are required to bridge a gap that for more than 150 years has seemed unbridgeable.”
Whether the sides do or not, he said, it was important to remember that “we share the same geographic region, breathe the same air, drink the same water.”
Rivlin, who has made it clear that he intends to be president of all the people of Israel, illustrated the sincerity of his intent by disclosing that on Tuesday he had visited the northern town of Arabeh to pay a condolence call on the family of Mohamed Karaka, the 14-yearold boy killed by a cross-border Syrian anti-tank missile. Last week, he said, he had gone to speak to students at the Mekor Chaim Yeshiva, where two of the three abducted teenagers had been students.
“We all share the same fate, the same pain and the same hope,” Rivlin said.
Rivlin was a surprise, last-minute addition to address the plenary of the Jewish Media Summit. He was not listed on the program, nor was there any announcement at the opening of the summit to the effect that he would participate.
In his maiden speech to dozens of journalists from as far south as Australia and as far north as Scandinavia, Rivlin – speaking in English – warmly welcomed them to Jerusalem, saying he was “the son of a Jerusalemite who was the son of a Jerusalemite who was the son of a Jerusalemite” – in short, a seventh-generation Jerusalemite with grandchildren who are ninth-generation Jerusalemites.
The Rivlin family was instructed by its head in 1809 to migrate from Lithuania to Jerusalem to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.
Although 1809 is of no significance, Rivlin said, it is the Hebrew year, denoted by the Hebrew letters heh, taf, kuf and ayin, which mean “the sound,” that was important. It was interpreted as: “Sound the great horn to proclaim freedom and the Messiah.”
His ancestor had told his flock that if the Messiah was coming to Jerusalem, the Rivlins had to be there to greet him.
Rivlin told the journalists that their presence in Israel at this time enabled them to acquaint themselves with the country’s realities and challenges.
“The State of Israel is not merely a Zionist or an Israeli undertaking,” he said. “It is also the state of all Jewish people all around the world. As president-elect my door will be open to all. Those who know me and my stance on safeguarding democracy [know] that nothing is as far away from me more than silencing opinions that differ from my mind.”
Rivlin, who will become Israel’s 10th president when he is inaugurated toward the end of July, said he was proud to become president of a Jewish and democratic state.
“I will never reject anyone based on their world view and I will fight for their right to express it,” he said. “I will insist that the presidential home will be open to anyone who wishes to engage in dialogue with me, be they Jewish, of one religion or another, Arab, residents of Israel or abroad, rich or poor, newcomers or veterans.”
During his term as speaker of the Knesset, Rivlin incurred the ire of some of his Likud colleagues for defending democracy, especially the right of expression among Arab legislators.
He will continue to take this attitude as president, he pledged.