All the usual trappings were there – a military honor guard, a military brass band, the unfurling of flags and the playing of national anthems – as four new ambassadors presented their credentials to President Shimon Peres at Beit Hanassi on Thursday at half-hour intervals.
The ambassadors were Tomas Pojar of the Czech Republic, Andrea Faulkner of Australia, Christina Lambert of Zambia, and Jaffalie Mussa of Malawi.
Notwithstanding the pleasantries, a cloud of diplomatic embarrassments hung heavy in the air.
First there was the long period that had elapsed since Pojar arrived in Israel on February 1. More than three months is a long time for someone already in the country to carry the title “ambassador designate.”
Then there was the humiliation that Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout suffered at the hands of immigration police at Ben-Gurion Airport, when he and his entourage were delayed for more than half an hour as they were leaving the country because someone had neglected to stamp his passport when he arrived earlier this month. During the visit, people accompanying him were repeatedly questioned about the stamps of Arab countries on their passports.
As for Australia, there was the expulsion of the Mossad representative in Canberra over the belief that he was responsible for forging Australian passports.
To cap it all, there was the Guardian
report on Sunday alleging that Peres offered to sell nuclear weapons to South Africa’s apartheid government in 1975 – a claim that Peres has vigorously denied.
The combined diplomatic gaffes reduced the cheer of what would usually have been a festive morning, even though everyone concerned made an effort to conduct business as usual.
Pojar is a second-generation Czech ambassador to Israel; his father was the first Czech ambassador, when relations that had been severed in 1967 were renewed 20 years ago.
Although the Czech Republic, which has been supportive of Israel in the European Union, is prepared to do anything possible to help in the Middle East peace process, this would not be his focal point, said Pojar.
“I leave that to you to solve,” he told Peres, explaining that he would concentrate more on research and development and on student exchanges at university level. He will also recruit businesspeople of Czech background, such as brothers Dan and Gad Propper of Osem, to form an Israel-Czech Chamber of Commerce.
Prior to his current appointment, Pojar worked closely with Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who he said was looking forward to a second state visit to Israel. He added that Prime Minister Jan Fischer, who has been a keen supporter of Israel and who will be out of office after this weekend’s parliamentary elections, was eager to come to Israel on a private visit.
Pojar’s guess was that the Social Democrats would probably win the election, but like Israel, would not be able to form a government without coalition partners. He was hopeful that once the new government was in place that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would pay an official visit to the Czech Republic, which, he said, had not yet been visited by any prime minister of Israel.
After accepting Faulkner’s credentials and sitting down to chat with her, Peres was careful not to mention the word “Mossad.” Faulkner was equally guarded, though both made vague and even not-so-vague references to the hiccup in bilateral relations.
For Faulkner, this is a second of tour of duty. She was here previously as a junior diplomat, and commented on the enormous economic development since she left in 1994.
She knows the country well, but since her arrival in early March, she said, she has not seen nearly enough of the changes that have taken place.
Peres complimented Australia on the way it had handled the economic crisis and said that Israel and Australia, which both have good universities and excellent scientists, could work together in areas of science and technology.
Peres and Faulkner also related to the long friendship between the two countries, which the latter said was represented in the depth of political and economic ties and Australia’s dynamic Jewish community.
In the two-and-a-half months since her arrival, Faulkner has engaged with Australian businesspeople representing high-level technology companies, who are excited about working with Israeli counterparts. Next month, she will be hosting an Australian university delegation that is coming to explore the potential for technological and scientific cooperation with Israel.
“Notwithstanding some of the things expressed in recent days,” she said, “we look forward to continuing and enhancing our relationship in every way, including very important regional and strategic issues.”
In this context she made special mention of Iran.
Later at the King David hotel, where the ambassadors had gathered for the traditional vin d’honneur
, Faulkner still had no comment on the Mossad affair, noting that everything related to the incident had already been said. Nonetheless, she said Peres had a standing invitation to visit Australia, and that Australia would be delighted to welcome him at some time within the next 12 months.
At his meetings with Lambert and Mussa, Peres took great pains to tell them about the world’s moral obligations to Africa, telling Lambert “humanity did not behave as it should have to Africa as a continent or to the countries of Africa.”
At another point in the conversation, he said: “We pray for the complete recovery of Zambia, which was exploited for such a long time. It’s not just a matter of politics, but of moral responsibility.”
He also noted that Malawi was one of the few African countries that had
maintained constant, unbroken relations with Israel, even in difficult
Peres assured both Lambert and Mussa, who are nonresident ambassadors,
that Israel was happy to share its technological knowledge to help
boost their agricultural outputs and aid their economies.
Lambert and Mussa were both interested in receiving such assistance and
were also keen to have Israel’s help in expanding the infrastructure of
their respective healthcare systems.
Lambert also wanted to see more Israeli tourists in Zambia, and noted
that Zambia’s Victoria Falls was among the wonders of the world.
Mussa noted that Malawi was endowed with plenty of natural resources,
but “now we want technology” to help intensify agricultural activities
“so that we can be the bread basket of the region.”