Prime ministers visiting President Peres make history

Joseph Muscat of Malta and Peter O'Neill of Papa New Guinea become first sitting PMs of their respective countries to visit Israel.

October 17, 2013 13:16
2 minute read.
Papa New Guinea PM Peter O'Neill

Papa New Guinea PM Peter O'neill 370. (photo credit: Koby Gideon/GPO)


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Two visiting heads of government at individual meetings with President Shimon Peres on Thursday described their being in Israel as historic.

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Joseph Muscat of Malta and Peter O’Neill of Papua New Guinea are the first sitting prime ministers of their respective countries to visit Israel.

Muscat, a former journalist and investment adviser, has been in office only since March. O’Neill, who was a businessman before entering politics, has been in office since August, 2012.

Each came to Israel with a large delegation, and each is interested in cooperating with Israel in the fields of science and technology.

O’Neill is also interested in developing the Defense Cooperation Program that his country has with Israel in order to rebuild and improve the standards of the PNG Defense Force. Additionally, he is looking to upgrade PNG’s overall security, and bilateral talks on this issue were already underway prior to his arrival in Israel.

PNG and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1978, but until recent years, in which Israel began to pay greater attention to Asia and the Pacific, little was done to enhance diplomatic ties.

Though rich in natural resources, with huge deposits of oil, natural gas and minerals, PNG is lacking in innovation and technology, according to O’Neill, who hopes to cooperate with Israel to remedy this situation. He said that Israel has a warm place in the hearts of PNG’s 7.5 million citizens – 99 percent of them Christians, with a large Catholic majority – and that this accounts for the thousands of PNG pilgrims who have come to Israel.

Muscat met with a number of Israeli dignitaries before visiting Peres, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who escorted him to the city’s Rabin memorial site.

The Maltese prime minister also signed a health and medical sciences cooperation agreement with Israel in Jerusalem.

At his meetings with both Netanyahu and Peres, Muscat discussed the need for cooperation on other levels as well, among them agriculture, energy and tourism.

In greeting each of the two prime ministers, Peres outlined his vision of a global economy in which companies rather than governments would help alleviate hunger and poverty, motivated by goodwill rather than the imposition of unenforceable laws.

Peres told Muscat, “the world is divided by violence, and united by science.”

He warned both prime ministers of the danger of terrorism.

Muscat mentioned the humanitarian crisis that Malta is having, with the absorption of Syrian refugees and Palestinians.

He said that Malta is affected by everything that happens by the Mediterranean, and that the stability of the region is in Malta’s interests.

“The well-being of Europe depends on peace and stability in the Mediterranean,” he said.

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