Panama is encouraging El Al to fly to Panama City, and is even willing to support El Al financially if the planes are not full, in order to have a direct link between Panama and Tel Aviv, Panama’s outgoing President Ricardo Martinelli told President Shimon Peres on Thursday.

Martinelli, whose five-year term ends July 1, came as one outgoing president to say goodbye to another. Peres will leave office July 26 after serving a seven-year term.

Martinelli, who was in Israel on an official but not a state visit, has been an outstanding friend of Israel, and throughout his presidency has ensured Panama’s steadfast support of Israel at international forums, primarily the United Nations.

In expressing appreciation to Martinelli for his friendship, Peres said he was not sure if Panama is the greatest country in the world, but it is the greatest friend of Israel in the world.

He thanked Martinelli for Panama’s long-standing support for Israel and the Jewish People “on every issue and at every occasion.”

He also noted how well Panama treats its own Jewish community.

Two of Martinelli’s predecessors, Max Delvalle Levy Maduro and his nephew Eric Arturo Delvalle, served as presidents of Panama in 1967 and 1985, respectively.

Martinelli said there were members of the Jewish community in his own government, as well as in the incoming government.

On a previous presidential visit in 2010, Martinelli told Peres that Panama would always support Israel, the guardian of “the world’s capital,” Jerusalem.

His sentiments have not changed. Whatever he had done for Israel, he said, was because he believed that what he was doing was correct, moral and right.

“I have it entrenched in my heart.”

He also pledged he will continue to support Israel when he is out of office, because he will remain politically active.

“If you are a friend,” he said, “you have to be a friend in good times and bad. You can’t be a friend just because it suits your interests.”

He was confident that as good as relations are between Panama and Israel, they will be strengthened with the signing of a free-trade agreement, the details of which are in the process of being completed.

On a personal note, he promised he would always continue his fight to support Israel.

“You have a true friend who wants nothing in return” he said.

Earlier in the day, Peres met with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende and discussed with him Norway’s role in the peace process and developments in Ukraine.

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