Is there another embassy moving to Jerusalem – or rather, returning to Jerusalem?
Without being stated specifically, the question hung in the air on Monday while President Reuven Rivlin was engaged in conversation with Ivory Coast Ambassador Vhangha Patrice Koffi, who was the first of four ambassadors to present their credentials to the president.
Rivlin commented that when the Ivory Coast eventually decides to come to Jerusalem, it won’t really have to move its embassy – because it actually owns the building in Jerusalem, which it left after the 1973 Yom Kippur War when it severed relations with Israel.
Relations were restored in 1986, but the Ivory Coast Embassy did not go back to its home in Jerusalem: It is currently in Ramat Gan.
When asked later by The Jerusalem Post to confirm rumors that the embassy was interested in reclaiming the premises – which for several years have served the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem – Koffi gave a terse “yes,” but did not go into details.
A spokesman for the Christian Embassy refused to comment.
Rivlin noted that if the Ivory Coast does return to Jerusalem, it will not be after a particularly long absence.
“Remember, we lived in Jerusalem – our ancestors were here 3,000 years ago,” he said. “We returned to our homeland.”
The other three ambassadors presenting their credentials were Carlos Wahnon Veiga of Cape Verde, Sam Sebuliba Male of Uganda and Thordur Aegir Oskarson of Iceland. Veiga, a former prime minister, is a long-time parliamentarian of his country, currently stationed in Washington. Male is stationed in Cairo, and Oskarson in Reykjavik.
Rivlin told two of the new ambassadors that by supporting terrorist and extremist organizations in the Middle East, Iran could spark a war that would extend beyond the region to the whole world.
The president stressed that Africa is the continent of the 21st century, and that cooperation on all levels with individual African states is very important to Israel.
As he always does when speaking to African diplomats, Rivlin asked the three African envoys when welcoming each of them to Jerusalem to use their influence to help Israel regain observer status in the African Union.
He also told them how pleased he was that thousands of African students had come to Israel over the years to learn how technology could help them with their agricultural output, their management of water and other essential skills.
Unable to resist introducing soccer into at least one of his conversations, Rivlin said when speaking to Koffi that the world has become a global village, so much so that his grandchildren like watching Les Elephants, the national team of the Ivory Coast. Rivlin said that he would like to see the team in Israel before it goes to Paris or London.
In his greeting to Veiga, Rivlin said that he was particularly pleased that someone with Veiga’s history and accomplishments had been chosen as ambassador to Israel, especially as he was his country’s first ambassador to Israel after a gap of 12 years.
Rivlin praised Veiga for his involvement in the restoration of the two Jewish cemeteries in Cape Verde, and for his support of the Jewish Heritage Project. It is commonly believed that a sizeable number of Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal more than 500 years ago found their way to Cape Verde, and that many Cape Verde residents, including Veiga, although no longer Jewish, are descendants of those Jewish settlers.
Veiga said that it was a great honor for him to serve as ambassador to Israel, and that he would work towards his country establishing a permanent embassy here. Until that happens, he said, he would devote his efforts to strengthening people-to-people relations between the two countries.
“We have a Jewish community of which we’re very proud,” he said. “We think it’s a duty to have good relations with Israel. You can count on me.”
For a long time, Cape Verde voted against Israel at the United Nations; at best, it abstained. But after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Liberia with Cape Verde President Jorge Carlos Fonseca in June 2017 during the summit meeting of the economic community of West Africa, Cape Verde gradually changed its foreign policy vis-à-vis Israel.
Male, who is a devout Christian, was delighted to be in Jerusalem where he visited Golgotha, otherwise known as Calvary, where Jesus was crucified. This was extremely meaningful to him.
“I have no doubt that God is here,” he said of the Holy City.
Relating to the disquiet that has too often visited the “City of Peace,” Male said: “Those who forget history repeat the mistakes of the past. We must ensure that this does not happen.”
Rivlin was happy to meet Oskarson, a seasoned diplomat, who has served several times with his country’s delegations to NATO. He has been Director for Defense in his Foreign Ministry’s defense department, has served as Permanent Representative of Iceland to the OSCE, UNOV, IAEA, CTBTO and as ambassador to Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Slovakia and Japan. He has also been a special representative to the Palestinian Authority. Rivlin was visibly awed.
Noting that Iceland has “a very limited economic relationship with Israel,” Oskarson said that there was plenty of potential for broadening the relationship in this and other spheres, and that Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir was particularly keen to come to Israel “as soon as possible” to discuss such issues.
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