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Grapevine: A little Egyptian brinkmanship
GREER FAY CASHMAN
British ambassador awards student scholarships, two prizes for the protocol chief and the president hosts the Czech interim prime minister.
EGYPTIAN AMBASSADOR Yasser Reda was a very junior diplomat at the time of the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt. His father had been an army officer, and never in his wildest dreams could he have conceived that his son would one day be ambassador to Israel, Reda told the enormous crowd gathered in the sweltering humidity at his residence in Herzliya Pituah. It was the first time that Reda, who presented his credentials 10 months ago, was hosting a National Day celebration here, and he combined it with the 30th anniversary of the peace treaty and a housewarming. Reda and his wife Nahla managed to move into the residence, which they are renting from Russian-born philanthropist Leonid Nevzlin, just in time for the festivities. Better still, on the previous evening, they entertained several hundred guests to the La Scala Opera performance of Aida at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. The opera, which is set in ancient Egypt, was first performed in Cairo on December 24, 1871. Egyptian ambassadors enjoy enormous popularity, and Reda and his outgoing, flamboyantly fashionable wife are no exception. If anything, they already show signs of outdoing Muhammad and Nagwa Bassiouny, who carved a deep niche for themselves in the country's social circles - and not only in the international community. In fact Reda scored a great coup by having both President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at his event. While Peres has graced the national day ceremonies of several ambassadors in recent months, only the US ambassador - at least as far as anyone could remember - could annually boast of having both the president and the prime minister at his reception. This year, US Ambassador James Cunningham had to miss out on Peres, who was on a state visit to Kazakhstan. Thus Reda achieved diplomatic brinkmanship. Recalling the peace accord, Reda said it was signed by leaders who were able to overcome fear and distrust. He also lauded Peres "who has dedicated his whole life to peace." Alluding to Egypt's role in the maintaining of peace and stability in the region, Reda said: "Together we can make a difference. We should seize the opportunity to achieve a lasting, comprehensive and just peace in the region." Quoting President Hosni Mubarak, he said that Arabs are ready to take reciprocal steps to those taken by Israel. Turning to Peres and Netanyahu, Reda said: "We believe you have the strength and vision to change realities on the ground."
AS FOR changing realities, Reda had high praise for the architect who worked against the clock to get the residence ready in time for the celebrations. Along the path leading from the front gate to the back garden where the reception was held was a red carpet. Another red carpet decorated the stage where Reda and his wife later sat together with Peres and Netanyahu and his wife Sara. Both women wore black. Nahla Reda was in a dress with a satin surface, a rounded wrapped skirt with bustle in the back and black rosettes at the waist. Sara Netanyahu, who by contrast is a classicist who favors minimalism in her attire, wore a simple but flattering pants suit. She and Nahla Reda appeared to have a wonderful rapport, and held hands and giggled like two schoolgirls when their respective husbands included them in their addresses.
BOTH PERES and Netanyahu in offering their congratulations on Egypt's 57th National Day, made a point of praising the leadership of Mubarak and attributing stability in the region to that leadership and the influence that he wields. "This leadership has been critical on attaining security and stability, not only between our two countries, but in the entire region. And this is a leadership that has been critical for the maintenance of peace, and I believe, for the expansion of peace," said Netanyahu. "We appreciate President Mubarak's efforts to roll back the forces of violence and radicalism, and to promote peace and stability in our region, the Middle East. I want to make it clear that our peace with Egypt was, and remains, the cornerstone of our efforts to advance peace with all our neighbors." Netanyahu expressed the hope that in the months and years ahead, Israel would forge a peace with the Palestinians, and expand that into a vision of a broader regional peace in which the Arab states "will embark on this historic journey with us." It was in this spirit that he voiced his appreciation to Shaikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the crown prince of Bahrain, for the sentiments that he shared in an op-ed in The Washington Post with regard to the advancement of the Arab peace initiative. The crown prince wrote: "All sides need to take simultaneous, good-faith action if peace is to have a chance." As invariably happens at such events, Netanyahu spoke of the need to broaden the bilateral relationship between Israel and Egypt: "I have a great appreciation for the present state of our peace, but I believe we can go a lot further. I think we can have a very warm peace." Peres declared that the problem was not whether relations between the two countries were perfect or not. The problem was whether young people would die in war. "We're lucky that youngsters from Egypt and Israel don't have to go to war against each other any more," he said, crediting Mubarak's leadership to the continuity of such a situation. Hoping to offer a new horizon to other young people in the region Peres asserted: "We will not compromise on peace."
ALTHOUGH THERE was supposedly a media pool, at least as far as television cameras and still photographers were concerned, the paparazzi somehow obtained entry and rushed in clusters to photograph the many dignitaries. Among the ministers who came in suits were Bennie Begin, not usually a suit and tie man, Silvan Shalom, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Michael Eitan. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin also wore a suit, but Moshe Ya'alon wore an open necked white shirt. MK Ophir Pines-Paz also wore a long-sleeved open-neck shirt in blue and white stripes, while MK Amir Peretz wore a jacket, but no tie. Always the proud Jerusalemite, Rivlin exploited the uncomfortable climatic conditions as yet another incentive for embassies to move to the capital. "How much easier it would be for all concerned if the Egyptians moved their embassy to Jerusalem where the climate is much more pleasant," he said.
IN HONOR of the Egyptian celebrations, and mindful that this is the 30th anniversary year of the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord, Chef Charlie Fadida, of the Tel Aviv Sheraton, baked a cake decorated with the Egyptian flag. The recipe symbolically included 30 eggs and the finished product weighed eight kilos, which amounts to an awful lot of calories - but no one was counting.
SOME PEOPLE wear their hearts on their sleeves, but others display them on their shoulders. Judy Shalom Nir Mozes, the wife of Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom has a blue Star of David tattooed on her shoulder, and she made sure that it was showing at the Egyptian reception.
FOR THE 15th consecutive year, the charismatic Nadia Matar, along with Rabbi Yehuda Glick, head of the Temple Institute, MK Arye Eldad, former MK Moshe Peled and performing artist Dudu Elharar will lead Women for Israel's Tomorrow and Women in Green, their families and friends in a Tisha Be'av march around the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, after services are held tonight opposite the US Consulate. In an e-mail she sent to regular participants, Matar wrote that the gathering would clearly state: "The Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel. We will not allow yet another destruction." According to Matar, the service will not only commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples, but also the destruction of Yamit, Gush Katif and Northern Samaria.
LAST WEEK, British Ambassador Tom Phillips, in the tradition of his predecessors, hosted a group of talented young Israelis who have been awarded British scholarships that will enable them to study in the UK during the coming academic year. This year there were 12 recipients, five of whom were selected by the British Embassy and the British Council for the prestigious Chevening scholarships, enabling postgraduate studies and research. The other seven are joint awards with private sponsors. Phillips invited all 12 awardees to his residence for a farewell reception and told them: "You play a very important part in the UK-Israel bilateral relationship. Relationships between countries are not just about meetings between diplomats, officials and ministers. Increasingly, it is the people-to-people contacts, in particular among academics and academic institutions, which play the pivotal role. You are living evidence of my government's commitment to find ways to encourage and promote cultural and academic exchanges between our countries, and indeed of our opposition to any attempt to impose an academic boycott of Israel." Competition for the scholarships is fierce with winners chosen from more than 100 applicants each year. One of this year's Chevening scholars is Channel 2's Knesset reporter Amit Segal.
FORMER US ambassador Dan Kurtzer and his wife Sheila, who have been frequent visitors, both separately and together, ever since his retirement from the foreign service in 2005, are back again - this time for an extended period, at least on his part. At his farewell party at the US ambassador's residence four years ago, Kurtzer announced that he was returning to academia, and later that year was appointed the first Daniel S. Abraham Visiting Professor in Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. His name was recently mentioned as one of the people being considered to serve as America's ambassador to Syria. Prior to his appointment as ambassador to Israel, Kurtzer served as ambassador to Egypt. That appointment made headlines, not only because he is Jewish, but because he is religiously observant and had people from the OU come to Cairo to kasher his kitchen. The OU also kashered his kitchen in Herzliya Pituah. If he gets the Syrian appointment, the OU will no doubt be summoned to Damascus.
GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES need to obtain permission from a higher authority before accepting prizes. Foreign Ministry Chief of Protocol Yitzhak Eldan was the recipient of two prizes in a six week span. The first was an award presented to him last month by Italian Ambassador Luigi Mattiolo, which Eldan chose to share with the team in his office; and last Friday the Israel Public Relations Association presented him with an Award of Excellence at its Roaring Lion award ceremony in recognition of his creative initiative in bringing about the realization of the multifaith, multinational Israel Olive Tree Route project. Eldan initiated the project together with the late Amin Salman Hassan, who was director of the Olive Board. Eldan accepted the award in Hassan's memory and dedicated the prize to him. Rami Levy, who owns a chain of discount supermarkets, was named manager of the year, and Yechiel Amitai, one of the pioneers of Israel's public relations industry in which he has spent 55 years, 25 of them as spokesman for the Transportation Ministry and the Airports Authority, was named IPRA Fellow. Amitai, who served under 12 ministers, revealed that part of the secret of his success was that he never supplied gossip about one minister to another, and that he told his ministers: "The final decision is yours, but you should make it after listening to my professional opinion." As for killing a story, Amitai's advice to the new generation was to simply shut up. If no one rushes to deny or defend, the story will die a natural death. Veteran journalist Yitzhak Noy, who was the master of ceremonies, conceded that news would be much sparser and drier without the stories initiated by PR agencies.
"DO YOU regret the divorce?" President Shimon Peres asked his guest after having dispensed with all the niceties. It wasn't a personal question and Jan Fischer, interim prime minister of the Czech Republic, who met with Peres last week, chuckled in response. "Is it better to have a one-state solution or a two-state solution?" Peres continued. Fischer admitted that initially he hadn't seen the point of dividing Czechoslovakia and had questioned whether it was necessary. Yet as a statistician he had known there were differences that called for a two-state solution. What was important, he pointed out, was that the division was by common agreement and carried out in a friendly and efficient manner, "unlike the situation in other parts of Europe." Despite different approaches to various issues, "we have a perfect relationship," he said. Fischer is his country's first Jewish prime minister. While Jews have held high ranking government positions, there was never a Jewish prime minister of Czechoslovakia or of the Czech Republic. There are Jews in the Czech diplomatic corps, and the Czechs have no problem in sending Jews to represent their interests here. Michael Zantovsky, the current Czech ambassador, is Jewish as was his predecessor Daniel Kummermann. Fischer's name was proposed as interim prime minister following the collapse in March of the government of Mirek Topalnek. Appointed in April by President Vaclav Klaus, Fischer will remain in office until elections are held in October. Meanwhile he heads a new caretaker cabinet which took office on May 8, the anniversary of the victory in 1945 of the Allies over the Nazis. Unless he develops a sudden liking for the corridors of power, Fischer is unlikely to remain in office or in the government after the elections. He is expected to return to his position as president of the Czech Statistical Office. His father was a mathematician and his mother a statistician, and Fischer followed in their footsteps, graduating in economic statistics from Prague's University of Economics. His son Jakub is continuing the family tradition and works as an assistant professor and deputy dean in the Faculty of Informatics and Statistics at the University of Economics. Peres has a special affinity for the Czechs, and frequently recalls that they supplied Israel with arms and equipment during the War of Independence, when all other countries, including the US, refused, and it was the Czechs who trained the pilots for the IAF. In January 1990, Peres, as deputy prime minister, was the first Israeli minister to visit what was then still Czechoslovakia since the suspension of diplomatic relations in 1967. The purpose of the visit was to renew diplomatic ties. Peres met with president Vaclav Havel as well as with Klaus who was then finance minister. Since then Peres has met with many Czech leaders in Jerusalem, Davos and Prague. He paid a state visit to the Czech Republic at the end of March.
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