Aware that many Israelis feel US President Barack Obama is unfavorably disposed to Israel, President Shimon Peres sought to assure new US Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro, who arrived in Israel two weeks ago, that he does not share that opinion.
Peres told Shapiro, the third of four envoys to present their credentials to Peres on Wednesday: “I consider the president of the United States, Barack Obama, as a friend of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel. I don’t have any doubts about it. We may have our differences, but he represents the best traditions of the United States with regard to Israel.”
Noting Obama’s declared commitment to Israel’s safety and security, he added: “We are in agreement on the path to peace.” He told Shapiro – as he had told Slovakia’s Radovan Javorcik and Germany’s Andreas Michaelis earlier in the day – that the Palestinians were making a mistake in asking the UN to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state.
“The Palestinians themselves have doubts,” said Peres, insisting, as he always does, that unless the sides can resolve the remaining differences between them, “no declaration will help.”
He added that “The UN can declare peace, but it cannot make peace,” citing as an example its inability to stop Iran‘s nuclear program.
Most problems between Israel and the Palestinians, said Peres, had been resolved, and the greatest contribution to peace on both sides was hope. “The Palestinian majority and the Israel majority both want peace,” Peres said.
Beginning to build their state was a right Palestinian decision, he said, because people wanted to see some tangible result of peace.
Peres said he was glad to see Shapiro in his new role, “because you know the issues and can enter into the heart of the problem.” Shapiro, formerly senior director for the Middle East and North Africa on the National Security Staff at the White House, said he was “proud, honored and humble” to represent the US in Israel.
He confirmed Obama’s commitment to the existence and security of Israel, and said it was his mission to strengthen the existing strong ties and work for the peace and security at the heart of relations between the two countries.
A fluent Hebrew speaker, Shapiro told Peres he imagined most of their
future discussions would be in English, but felt the need to say
something in “Ivrit.” He then launched into a lengthy address in Hebrew,
calling relations between the US and Israel “the most important and
strongest in the world” based on common values cherished by countries
united in the struggle against the same threats – an excellent strategic
partnership, and a moral one. His presence in Israel was a sign of
Obama’s commitment to the deepening and enhancing of relations, Shapiro
Relating to questions about Israel’s legitimacy and threats to her
existence, Shapiro said: “As allies, we will combat these threats, and
at the same we will look for opportunities in the new Middle East with
the aim of building peace between Israel and her neighbors.”
Over the past two years, he said, he had worked closely with Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and would continue to do so, but he also
wanted to have an ongoing dialogue with all sectors of the Israeli
Rising to propose the toast, Peres said he didn’t know whether to do so
in Hebrew or in English. Finally, he did it in both, saying how happy
Israel was to have Shapiro as an ambassador of the “great and wonderful
country which has stood by our side for such a long time.” Peres said he
wanted to thank the Obama, “who is a great friend of our country,” for
his peace-making efforts which, Peres was certain, would eventually bear
Peres and Shapiro with their respective aides then sat down to a closed-door session.
When Shapiro emerged to sign the Beit Hanassi guest book, he was asked
by The Jerusalem Post why Esther Pollard had not been informed of the
hospital to which her husband, Jonathan, had been transferred, nor of
his current state of health. Shapiro ignored the question, waved to the
phalanx of media and headed for the exit.
To Slovakia’s Javorcik, whose wife Michelle spent three weeks on
Jerusalem in 1997 on a Ministry of Foreign Affairs course for young
diplomats, Peres could not resist mentioning the separation between
Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which had previously existed not side
by side as today, but as a single Czechoslovakian entity.
“For the past 20 years, we have had the best relations in our history,”
said Javorcik, alluding to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and
implying it really was better to live side by side. Jacorcik said
Slovakia was carefully monitoring developments in the region and that
his government was interacting with Egyptian NGOs to give them the
benefit of the Slovakian experience in transforming from an autocratic
to a pluralistic system.
This is the second time around for Germany’s Michaelis and his wife, Heike, and their daughters.
He first came to Israel as a junior diplomat nearly 20 years ago,
bringing along a five-week-old baby. His second daughter was born in
Reminded by Peres of the special relationship between Israel and
Germany, Michaelis said that he felt the weight of the responsibility.
In proposing the toast, Peres said he had the highest regard for
President Christian Wulff and admiration for Chancellor Angela Merkel,
who, through her honesty and seriousness, had won public confidence. “We
are lucky to have her as a friend,” he said.
When it came to Nauru’s Marlene Moses, Peres recalled that she had
accompanied Nauru President Marcus Stephen on an historic first visit to
Israel some 18 months ago, and that Stephen had promised her then that
he would appoint her ambassador to Israel.
Moses is a non-resident ambassador stationed in New York.
Nauru, and many other Pacific islands, she explained, have no rivers or
lakes, just the sea, which threatens to submerge them. In addition, all
of Nauru’s underground water is contaminated, and Nauru would like to
take advantage of Israel’s expertise in water technology to overcome
Peres promised to put the best experts at her disposal.
Nauru is also developing its fish industry, another area in which Israel
has expertise, and Peres said that he would arrange to have her meet
fish breeding experts as well.
Nauru is the world’s smallest republic. As far as its relations with
Israel go, said Moses, “our size belies the depth of our friendship.”