President Shimon Peres is finalizing arrangements for his six-day visit to the United States next week. Peres is scheduled to leave Israel on Tuesday for a round of farewells and honors. This will be his last official visit as president, prior to the conclusion of his seven-year term in the last week of July.
While in the US, Peres will divide his time between Washington and New York. In Washington, next Wednesday, he will visit President Barack Obama in the White House for a last working meeting between the two.
Despite the generation gap, the two presidents have developed a strong relationship, which had its genesis when Obama visited Israel during his first presidential campaign. Peres has often defended Obama against criticism from various Israeli quarters, and Obama has spoken of Peres in the most respectful of terms. Both presidents have visited each other’s countries and have conferred on each other the highest civilian awards.
Peres received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama in Washington in June 2012, and Obama received the President’s Medal of Distinction in Jerusalem in March 2013.
This time, Peres would want something more meaningful than a medal – the release of Jonathan Pollard. He will be eligible for parole in 2015 after having served 30 years in prison, but there is no guarantee his release would not be opposed by the Department of Justice.
A Knesset delegation that traveled to the US for Jerusalem Day celebrations, took with it a petition to Obama signed by 106 legislators who called for Pollard’s release.
The letter asked Obama to give proper consideration to all the requests that have been made to him and to order Pollard’s release for humanitarian and humane reasons.
“You have the power to offer him a final chance to end his life as a free man,” the letter stated.
On Wednesday evening, Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US, will host a reception for Peres so people will have an opportunity to wish him well on leaving office.
But Peres will not leave the United States without yet another medal. On Thursday, he is set to receive the Congressional Gold Medal and will be the first Israeli president and the ninth person in the world, to receive both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
That rare distinction is proof of the extent of the esteem in which Peres and the State of Israel are held in the US.
In May, the House of Representatives passed legislation to award the Congressional Medal to Peres, following a similar bill that was approved by the US Senate in March. The bill is a bipartisan initiative. Peres will also address Congress.
Afterward he will return to New York, spending the weekend in the Big Apple catching up with old friends, and on Sunday he will have a working meeting with UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon.
Later in the day, Peres will be the guest of honor at a mega event at the Park Avenue synagogue, where more than a thousand Jewish community leaders will gather to hear him speak of the need to strengthen the ties between Diaspora Jewish communities and Israel.