President Rivlin with President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca of Malta .
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Prior to the expiration of her term in April, Malta’s President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca led a delegation this week to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The main purpose of her visit was to enhance cooperation and collaboration at all levels, but primarily people to people relations, an ambition lauded by President Reuven Rivlin with whom she met on Wednesday.
The two presidents concurred that as significant as political and diplomatic relations may be, people to people and market to market contacts are far more important.
Knowing that Malta has a relatively long and close relationship with the Palestinians, Rivlin – several times during their frank and almost emotional conversation – asked Coleiro Preca several times to impress upon the Palestinians that Israel is here to stay.
In recent meetings with foreign leaders, Rivlin has consistently referred to the Palestinians as “our neighbors and cousins” and did so again on Wednesday, occasionally reversing the order.
The international community has to understand “that all of us are living here and none of us will leave the fatherland,” Rivlin told his Maltese counterpart.
Referring specifically to the Palestinians and citing the Bible and history, Rivlin said: “They have to understand that we have returned to the fatherland. We came because everyone told us to go back to our home,” he continued, alluding to centuries of prejudice against the Jewish people in the many lands of their dispersion.
He said that when his ancestors came to the Holy Land more than 200 years ago, they had sought to live in harmony with “our cousins and neighbors.”
In stressing the Biblical and historic rights of the Jewish people to return to their ancestral homeland, Rivlin, as he has done many times before, insisted that Israel is not compensation for what happened to the Jewish People during the Holocaust. “It is what the Jewish people dreamed of for 2,000 years,” he declared.
The president explained that Israel and the Palestinians cannot settle their differences until they build confidence in each other. “We can have a joint economy and joint security,” he said, adding “we don’t press them and they can’t press us. You have to tell them that Israel is not only strong from a military point of view – Israel is a fact, and they have to accept reality and look forward.”
Expanding on the people to people aspect of the conversation, Coleiro Preca said that when people come together, issues of understanding and respect can materialize.
The two presidents discussed the migrant refugee problem which is besetting the world – and the resultant terrorism that some migrants bring with them – and Coleiro Preca stated that people in the international community must stand together and be united on these issues.
She thought it was a pity that “beautiful regions like the Mediterranean and the Middle East are always in the news for the wrong reasons. When people start understanding each other, there’s much more room for harmony.”
It pained her that 70 years after the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “there are still so many divisions and abuses.”
Looking from her hotel window in Jerusalem, she said, she could see the roof tops of synagogues, mosques and churches which she interpreted as “a statement of harmony.”
One of the reasons that she and her delegation came to Israel, said Coleiro Preca, was to meet the business community for the purpose of further collaboration.
More than a hundred Israeli business enterprises are registered in Malta.
She also took the opportunity to meet with El Al executives to see if there could be some form of cooperation with Maltese Airline companies.
“We need to engage on as many levels as possible and with as many institutions as possible,” she said.
One area in which a collaboration agreement was signed during the visit was in the field of health.
It was signed by Israel’s Deputy Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman and Malta’s Minister for Health Chris Fearne, who said that Malta is particularly interested in Israel’s oncology research.
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