President Peres meets Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos Calderon.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Shimon Peres congratulated Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
Calderon on Monday for “achieving the impossible” – namely, finding a way to
unite Colombia after decades of strife and terrorism which had divided the
Their meeting took place at the President’s Residence in
Jerusalem and marked the third time that Santos, who arrived on Sunday, is
visiting Israel. His two earlier visits were during two of his three ministerial
Peres referred specifically to the agreement which Santos had
reached last August with FARC – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia –
which is the largest of the rebel guerilla groups.
“You are an important
and influential visitor and a dear, true friend of Israel’s who seeks peace, and
your visit will give impetus to the renewing and deepening of relations in the
spheres of security, science, technology and agriculture,” Peres told his
“You are deserving of all praise and
Santos said that he was in Israel as the representative of
47 million Colombians who have the highest regard and affection for Israel. He
said that he brought warm greetings from his people to the people of Israel “who
have a right to happiness and a good life.”
Santos expressed his joy
about the opportunity to once again return to Israel as president with his wife
and children and enhance the already close relations in the spheres of commerce,
innovation and politics.
Both Israel and Colombia have suffered lack of
tolerance he said, and both countries have proved to be greater than the
challenges confronting them.
“We can learn from each other,” Santos said,
expressing confidence that both nations can overcome remaining
When he looked at Israel, he said, he could see that the path
to economic stability was through innovation.
Colombia – considered
Israel’s closest ally in Latin America – was one of few nations that did not
support the Palestinian bid for membership in the United Nations, opting to
abstain from voting.
Colombia officially supports a two-state solution to
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and during his visit, Santos intends to work
with both sides in an attempt to facilitate their return to the negotiating
Last October, after receiving the Shalom Prize from the Latin
American Chapter of the World Jewish Congress in recognition of his commitment
to seeking peace for his country and worldwide, Santos acknowledged that, “Both
the people here and the people in Israel have been seeking peace for
Immediately after Monday’s formal welcoming ceremony, Peres and
Santos met behind closed doors for an in-depth discussion attended by government
representatives from both nations.
In introducing Economy and Trade
Minister Naftali Bennett to Santos, Peres told the Colombian leader that “He’s a
new minister and a very powerful man. You must be careful.”
perpetual trademark grin did not betray whether he was flattered or
The two presidents emerged from their working meeting to
witness the signing of a free trade-zone agreement between Israel and Colombia,
an air services agreement and a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in
matters of innovation.
When some of the journalists present inquired what
such innovation entailed, both Israeli and Colombian officials laughed and said
it was a euphemism for continued trade in arms and military strategies. Israel
has for several years been a major supplier of defense equipment to Colombia,
and has sent strategists to help train Colombian military forces.