Laughter is not a usual component in ceremonies in which new ambassadors present
their credentials to the president of the state.
But there was a great
deal of laughter when Russian Ambassador Sergey Yakovlevich Yakovlev came with
his key staff members to the President’s Residence on Thursday.
was the fourth of five new ambassadors who presented credentials to President
Shimon Peres. The others were Nigeria’s David Oladipo Obasa, Finland’s
Leena-Kaisa Mikkola, Philippines’ Generoso de Guzman Calonge and China’s Gao
After presenting his letters of credence and recall of his
predecessor Piotr Stegny, Yakovlev introduced his team, each of whom, to the
amazement of the President, spoke to him in Hebrew.
When everyone sat
down for the good-luck toast and brief tete-a-tete that the president conducts
with each new ambassador, Peres said that he understood that the presidential
election campaign was underway in Russia and suggested that one of the
candidates should come to Israel where there is a large Russian
It is fairly certain that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will
return to the presidential office in which he previously served and that current
President Dmitry Medvedev will become prime minister.
either, or designating their current positions, Yakovlev replied that he had
regards for Peres from both.
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There were giggles, but everyone in the room
truly cracked up when Peres turned to Yakovlev and said: “I’m ashamed to ask,
but how do you see peace in the Middle East?” Less than an hour earlier, the new
Finnish ambassador had put much the same question to Peres.
The fact of
the matter is that Peres values Yakovlev’s expert knowledge of the people and
politics of the region.
Yakovlev is his country’s former special envoy to
the Middle East.
It is with this past experience that he hopes to make a
contribution to Middle East peace in his new ambassadorial capacity. Peres noted
that Russia is becoming an increasingly important player in the Middle
For Obasa and Calonge, who each wore the national costumes of their
respective countries, the presentation of credentials took second place to being
able to actually meet with Peres. Each confessed to being a long-time admirer of
the president. For Obasa, who while still a schoolboy, had learned about Peres,
it was a very exciting moment.
Calonge confessed that he never thought he
would see the day when he would shake hands with one of Israel’s iconic figures
and one of the country’s founding father’s and shapers of its history.
also thanked Peres for the “institutional protection” that Israel gives to
Filipino workers, explaining that this is something they do not have in some
Peres expressed appreciation for the devotion with which
Filipino caregivers are looking after Israel’s sick and elderly, to which
Calonge replied: “They’re ambassadors, just like me.”
When speaking to
Obasa, Peres said that Africa should be given a chance to recover from mistakes
imposed on it under the rule of Empire and beyond.
Africa is now
beginning to take unity seriously, he added. Although there are still many
problems to overcome, there is no reason why Africa should not flourish, Obasa
continued, offering to put Israel’s know-how at Africa’s disposal, declaring
that although Israel does not have much land or water, agriculture based on
hi-tech gives yields which are 10 times as high as those of most other
countries, utilizing half the amount of water.
If Nigeria takes advantage
of Israel’s offer, Peres continued, it can play an important role in bringing
Africa out of the cycle of poverty.
Obasa replied that Israel is a model
for development for the whole world and that Nigeria appreciated Israel’s
assistance in helping it to realize its potential. When asked to sign the
visitors’ book, Obasa wrote his message in English, but signed his name in
Peres could not help but recall during his conversation with
Mikkola, a meeting of the Socialist-International that he attended in a Finnish
sauna, that “it was the most naked political performance.”
serious vein, Mikkola said that she had been positively surprised since coming
to Israel to learn of the number of different activities between Israel and
Finland, especially in the areas of hi-tech and innovation, and noted that both
Israel and Finland are among the world’s leading countries for
However, Finland has a long way to go before it catches up
with Israel in the realm of Nobel Prizes, she conceded.
“You have 10, we
only have three,” she said as she congratulated Israel on the Nobel Prize for
Chemistry, which will be awarded to Prof. Dan Shechtman.
In response to
her question about Middle East peace and the resumption of negotiations, Peres
said that the best course is direct negotiations. “If negotiations are done
publicly, it becomes an ongoing press conference,” he said.
He said he
preferred to have an opening and then to go underground and negotiate peace
quietly, because “in peace negotiations you have to convince not only your
opponent but your own people.”
He was opposed to internationalizing the
negotiations because he believes that this would only add to the conflict,
rather than reduce it. Peres is convinced that if an end is brought to the
Israeli- Palestinian conflict it will enable the Arabs to concentrate on their
own future and development.
Gao, when presenting her credentials, made
her opening and closing remarks in Hebrew and spoke in English for the main
part, thanking Peres in Hebrew for every compliment he gave her.
with an invitation from President Hu Jintao for Peres to visit China next year
during the 20th anniversary celebrations of Sino-Israel diplomatic
She hoped to enhance those already strong ties, she said. Gao was
optimistic that the volume of trade between Israel and China would double from
around $6 billion per annum to $12b. during her period of tenure.
told her that what China can do for the Middle East is to help eradicate poverty
and hunger. China escaped poverty without American dollars or Russian rubles, he
said. It was able to do this through the efforts of its people.
told some of my Arab friends to look at China,” he said.
Alluding to the
Palestinian request to the United Nations for recognition of statehood, Peres
said that a declaration on a piece of paper was not good enough. Nor was the
election of a new president and a new parliament. “You have to elect a new way
of life,” he said.
“Just changing personalities won’t do the job. You
have to change the message,” he added, as he reiterated his request that China
help the Arabs to escape division, violence, poverty, unemployment and
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