Chilean president apologizes for Temple Mount visit with Palestinians

Israel had agreed that Piñera could go up to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif - but presumed he would do so, as is customary, together with Wakf officials.

June 26, 2019 23:17
The Dome of the Rock is seen in the background as Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and his wife Ce

The Dome of the Rock is seen in the background as Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and his wife Cecilia Morel walk on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, during their visit to Jerusalem's Old City June 25, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)


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Chilean President Sebastián Piñera apologized to President Reuven Rivlin for allowing Palestinian officials to accompany him during his Temple Mount visit on Tuesday.

Rivlin’s spokesperson confirmed that an apology had been issued during Piñera’s visit with the Israeli president on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, the Foreign Ministry reprimanded Chilean Ambassador Rodrigo Fernandez over the visit.
Israel had agreed that Piñera could go up to the Temple Mount, but the Foreign Ministry presumed he would do so, as is customary, together with Wakf officials. Under the Oslo Accords, the site is controlled by the Wakf and is not under the purview of the Palestinian Authority.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said that the government “takes seriously any infringement of Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount, especially one that violates an agreed-upon procedure,” the Foreign Ministry stated on Wednesday. “We must distinguish between absolute freedom of worship that Israel safeguards” and “ensuring that our sovereignty over the Temple Mount is not harmed.”

Later in the day, the ministry said it had received a formal letter of apology from the Chilean Embassy explaining that Piñera’s visit was a private one. The embassy clarified that Piñera had not invited the Palestinian officials to join him, and had not even known that they were there.

As evidence that the crisis had passed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted Piñera for dinner on Wednesday night. He also held a joint news conference with him in the afternoon during which the two leaders joked and laughed.

“The future belongs to those who innovate,” Netanyahu told Piñera. “Chile and Israel are both innovation nations and we are committed to seizing that future through this cooperation.”

On Tuesday, Piñera visited the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. At both of those sites, he was accompanied by an official from the Foreign Ministry’s guest department.

He also held an outdoor news conference on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives with the Temple Mount in the background, which was filmed by the Chilean newspaper Diario Financiero.

Most of his talk was about domestic Chilean affairs, but he also affirmed that his country has no intention of relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“The Chilean Embassy will remain in Tel Aviv,” Piñera said. “Chile defends and is in favor of a two-state solution – an Israeli state and a Palestinian state.”

Earlier in the day, Rivlin spoke with him about the importance of Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount, and in Jerusalem in general, when the two men met at Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people since the days of King David,” Rivlin said. “Our historical connection to Jerusalem, and our sovereignty in Jerusalem, make us responsible for preserving Jerusalem as a city of faith and peace.”

Rivlin asked Piñera to speak with the PA about supporting the US economic plan that it unveiled in Bahrain. The Chilean president is scheduled to meet with PA officials on Thursday before flying out of Ben-Gurion Airport.

“The gaps between us and the Palestinians are great, but we must begin with small steps of cooperation, and not to boycott or refuse plans that will improve our economic and social situation,” Rivlin said. “We must cooperate in every field where we can work together. That is the only way.”

RIVLIN TOLD Piñera that he has frequent conversations with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who had called to offer his condolences upon the death of his wife, Nechama, earlier this month.

Piñera thanked Rivlin for his desire to “find the path to peace and harmony with the Palestinian people. I know that you have always asked for peace in the Holy Land. It is a land sacred to a very large part of mankind: the capital of the three monotheistic religions. This is the place for a meeting where the three religions can cooperate with each other. Despite the differences, what unites humanity is the fact that we are all the children of God.”

Out of respect for Rivlin, Piñera came without his wife, because according to protocol, if the host has no spouse, guests refrain from bringing theirs. At the outset of his own statement, Piñera voiced his condolences to Rivlin, saying that he remembered when Rivlin and his wife had visited Chile.

Commenting that relations between Israel and Chile over the past 70 years have had their ups and downs, Rivlin said that the relationship went back to before the establishment of the State of Israel when righteous Chileans rescued Jews fleeing from the Nazis.

Speaking of commonalities between their countries, Rivlin reminded Piñera that their countries had each gained accession to the OECD in the same year. Both, against all odds, have developed stable economies; both have turned agriculture into a profitable enterprise; and both work together on water management, communications, space research and satellites, cyber security and more.
Eight bilateral agreements were signed between the two countries during Piñera’s visit.

Piñera last visited Israel in 2011 during his previous stint as president. In speaking with Rivlin, he referred to Israel as “a wonderful country.”

Israeli-Chilean ties date back to 1949. The country has a small Jewish community of some 20,000 people. It is also home to half a million Palestinians, and has recognized Palestine as a state since 2011.

In November, the Chilean Congress gave the nod to a resolution calling on the government to boycott settlements; to reexamine past agreements with Israel; and to ensure that all future agreements with Israel are confined to within the Green Line.

Direct flights between Chile and Israel have boosted tourism in both directions, Rivlin noted. While neither country is exactly rich in natural resources, each, through innovation, has managed to take advantage of what nature has to offer, he said. Aware that Chile has suffered extensively from drought over the past decade, Rivlin said that Israel knows how to create moisture out of the air.

”We have much to learn from each other,” he said.

Cassandra Gomes-Hochberg contributed to this report.

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