Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Prime Minister od Macedonia Zoran Zaev, September 4, 2017..
(photo credit: CHAIM ZACH / GPO)
“Macedonia stands with Israel in its fight against extremism and on behalf of world peace,” Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the start of their meeting in Jerusalem on Monday.
“We are very happy that we are here in Israel,” he said.
“We’re hoping that our cooperation will be mainly on two levels. The first level is cooperation for security and for world peace.”
Israel is one of the Zaev’s first foreign trips outside the Balkans since taking office at the end of May. During his tenure he hopes his small Balkan country of two million people will become a member of NATO.
If Zaev is successful in that effort, he told Netanyahu his country will support Israel from within the organization.
“The threat of radicalism and extremism is really present here in this region against Israel but also against my small country Macedonia and the whole region of the western part of the Balkans,” Zaev said.
“We have cooperated on the level of security and the level of defense until now, and I know that we will increase this cooperation because it is in the interest of [both countries],” he added.
Israeli Ambassador to Macedonia Dan Oryan later told The Jerusalem Post
that the Macedonian delegation had discussed joint strategic threats with Israel, including Islamic State.
“There are youngsters who leave the Balkans, go to Syria and to other places and then come back,” he said.
But a large portion of the Macedonian delegation’s visit focused on economics and among its members were 60 business people Oryan said.
Bilateral trade between the two countries stands at $40 million. Growth has been stagnant in the last few years because of internal domestic turmoil within Macedonia, but “now things are looking stable.”
The two countries want to improve ties in agriculture, high-tech and tourism, especially through the creation of round the year direct flights, Oryan said.
Zaev told Netanyahu that Macedonia could benefit Israel’s experience in high-tech and as a start-up nation.
He paid homage to the long history of the small 200 member Jewish community in his country, which dates back to the time of the fall of the Second Temple.
At the start of World Word II some 100,000 Jews lived in Macedonia, many of whom were killed in the Holocaust.
The bulk of the survivors relocated to Israel.
“Macedonia highly respects the cultural heritage of the Jewish people in our country. We remember the victims of the Holocaust,” Zaev said, adding that he stands by the slogan “Never again.”
He recalled that in 2011 his country opened the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia and since 2015 has worked on rehabilitating the Jewish cemetery in Bitola Monastir.
Netanyahu thanked Zaev for his country’s actions in remembering the Holocaust and for its modern day support for the Jewish State.
He joked that Israel’s loss on Saturday to Macedonia in a qualifying soccer match could “have been a moment of crisis.”
Netanyahu congratulated Zaev on the victory and said his visit was a “great moment” in the 22-years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
“We are both small nations, democratic nations with a strong affinity [to each other], that was expressed most recently when we sent some firefighting planes to [Macedonia] to extinguish forest fires,” he said.
Israel and Macedonia are friends in “stormy days and rainy days or days of fire,” Netanyahu said, adding: “We are pleased to have the opportunity to talk with you both about our bilateral relations and about standing up for Israel in international forums something that Macedonia has done. We appreciate it and we hope it will continue to do so.”