(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
At the initiative of Mexican Ambassador Federico Salas Lotfe, the Dean of the ambassadors of Latin American and Caribbean countries, President Reuven Rivlin met on Wednesday with ambassadors and deputy chiefs of mission from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.
Rivlin and his guests discussed domestic, regional and bilateral issues. Bernardo Griever, the Ambassador of Uruguay who is in the process of winding up his term, was particularly curious about the upcoming elections and said that he would be following them with great interest from afar. He also said that he hoped that the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians would be resumed after the elections, and that the outcome would be positive. “This is a land of miracles – and it is time for another miracle,” he said.
Griever surmised that Rivlin would be faced with a very difficult decision in tasking someone to form the next government,
Rivlin replied: “My decision will be in accordance with the unwritten constitution of the State of Israel. Nothing personal will come into it. The person who can best form a government will be chosen.” The president also made it clear that when receiving representative groups from the different parties, he would not let anyone off the hook. He will insist that each group make a recommendation, and in the case of those who might be reluctant or undecided, he would not permit them to leave without stating a preference.
As for the miracle mentioned by Griever, Rivlin said that Israel is a democracy as well as a state of miracles “and we want a miracle that will enable all of us to live as regular people.”
At the outset of the meeting, Lotfe said that he hoped that such gatherings could be held on a regular basis. Rivlin commented that it would be much easier if all the embassies were in Jerusalem, and noted that some embassies, now no longer in the capital, were originally in Jerusalem.
Rivlin quickly introduced the problems with the Palestinians into the conversation, saying that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is desperate because he does not think that any agreement he might conclude with Israel will be accepted by the Palestinian people.
Rivlin implied that this was due to the absence of a proper democratic system in the Palestinian Authority and recalled that when the vote on the Oslo Accords was taken in the Knesset the vote was 61 in favor and 59 against. Even those who had rejected the idea he said, had to accept it under the rules of democracy.
Coming back to the proposal of two states for two peoples, Rivlin said that even if the agreement was ratified by the Knesset and the borders were designated, he was not sure that Abbas would be able to convince his own people.
“When you meet Abbas,” Rivlin suggested to his guests, “you can ask him if he can convince his people to accept this.” Rivlin stated that there are many Palestinians who will not only reject the two state solution but are totally opposed to Israel’s right to exist.
It’s a very complicated situation he said, because if and when there is a State of Palestine, it will have relations with countries hostile to Israel such as Iran, and it can invite people from these countries to visit, thereby creating a danger to Israel.
Although Israel is not at war with any Arab state, said Rivlin, it is at war with terrorism, and those who use religion as a reason for their brutal actions.
While advocating an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Rivlin said that it could not come about without dialogue. “We can’t live with walls. We have to live with open borders,” he said, but was doubtful whether agreement could be reached with Abbas, who he said had previously been offered conditions that no-one in Israel would agree to today, and he rejected them. Three months ago, US Secretary of State John Kerry offered him conditions that were not authorized by Israel, but were offered with the knowledge of Israel. Abbas told Kerry that he would have to think about it, said Rivlin. Kerry asked for a time frame and was told only a few days. No reply has been forthcoming to date.
The ambassadors were also interested in improving relations with Israel on both regional and bilateral levels. “We are a group of countries with friendly dispositions towards Israel,” said Lotfe, emphasizing that while each country was interested in enhancing political and economic ties with Israel, “our primary interest is to see the Israeli and Palestinian peoples living in peace, prosperity and pride. We want to help both of you to find a common understanding and to make life in the region better.”