Welcoming the first Brazilian head of state to the Holy Land in 130 years, President Shimon Peres praised President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at Beit Hanassi on Monday morning, saying, “Your people love you and the world looks at you as a symbol of peace and hope.”
“Even in Jerusalem, 130 years is a long time,” he said. In praising Lula da Silva’s attributes and accomplishments Peres said: “In a sense you represent the future of all of us.”
Despite the 64-year-old Lula da Silva’s close relations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his upcoming visit to Teheran and his refusal to visit Theodor Herzl’s grave to lay a wreath even though his agenda includes a visit to Yasser Arafat’s grave in Ramallah, the Brazilian president is recognized as a man who believes in dialogue, negotiation and reconciliation.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Lula da Silva also met. They agreed to establish a joint cabinet meeting every other year, alternating locations between Brazil and Israel. Lula said he hoped the first one could be organized this year.
They agreed to hold high-level bilateral meetings between leading business people every two years as well.
Israel already has established joint ministerial meetings with Germany and Italy, and is in the process of setting one up with Poland.
Peres commended Lula da Silva for bringing down the levels of poverty and illiteracy in his country and for his continued efforts to eliminate violence.
Peres, who was in Brazil in November, extolled it as a country free of any form of discrimination. “You have given democracy a new meaning. You have imbued it with the right to be different,” he said.
Alluding to recent Muslim riots triggered by disputes about holy sites and heritage sites, Peres said that Israel believes in freedom of access to the Temple Mount and all other religious sites for people of all creeds and ethnic backgrounds.
“We will respect every holy place, every place of worship, every place of prayer. What is holy to Muslims will be holy to us. What is holy to Christians will be holy to us,” he said.
Peres expected reciprocity on the part of Muslims and Christians.
Turning to the main focus of Lula da Silva’s visit, Peres said that although there may be crises along the way, “we will not allow any crisis to halt the peace process. We have no alternative to peace and not much time left in which to resume the peace process with our neighbors.”
The Brazilian leader was here in 1993 and met with then-foreign minister Peres. Lula da Silva also recalled other meetings that they had in Brasilia, London, and Davos, Switzerland. He described Peres as “the No. 1 citizen of the world” and lauded him as a peace negotiator.
“No one has a better track record,” he said. “I came to talk about peace but also to strengthen relations between our two countries. We have not utilized even 20 percent of the potential of our bilateral relations in enhancing our friendship, expanding our two economies and improving the welfare of our citizens.”
As for peace, “No other people in the world love to exercise peace more than the Brazilians. Peace for us came at an enormous price. Brazilians are currently undergoing a magical moment of self-esteem, quality of life, and our own place in a globalized world.”
Because peace is so difficult to achieve, more people should be involved, Lula da Silva advocated. “Politics is the only science without limits, enabling the impossible to become possible. When everything seems impossible, the possible happens,” he said.
Nothing can justify war, he said. There are no words of justification. “But there are millions of words to justify peace and we have to seek them all the time.”
Lula da Silva and his wife, Marisa, were also greeted by three sixth-grade children from the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem. Yonatan Berdichevsky, who immigrated from Brazil nine months ago, welcomed him in Portuguese. Mouad Hassen greeted him in Arabic and Shai Shraga in Hebrew. The children presented Marisa with a bouquet of roses in the palest shade of apricot, and a small basket of Israeli produce.
Peres asked Lula da Silva to convey a message to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about Israel’s serious intent with regard to peace. It was in Israel’s interests, he said, that a stable Palestinian state be created and developed alongside Israel. “We believe in a two-state solution. We do not want our neighbors to endure any further suffering,” Peres said.
The closed-door meeting between Peres and Lula da Silva went way over schedule, and the two presidents arrived late at the bilateral business seminar at the King David hotel.
At the business seminar, Lula da Silva informed Peres that Israel is the first country outside Latin America to have a free-trade agreement with Mercusur, the Southern Common Market whose member states include Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and whose markets are in the range of $3 trillion and reach out to a population of 250 million people. The agreement was reached in principal in 2007, but not finalized. As a tribute to Peres, the Brazilian Congress had approved Israel’s admission when he was visiting in November, but there were still technicalities to finalize at the time.
Lula da Silva invited Hebrew University of Jerusalem president Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson to visit his country, to strengthen scientific ties between HU and Brazil’s educational institutions.
The South American leader extended the invitation at a meeting in Jerusalem described by HU as “warm and longer than planned” that included HU vice president for external relations Carmi Gillon, and associate vice president for Latin America Joseph Benarroch.
Lula da Silva discussed how he has acted vigorously in his country
to strengthen higher education and in particular to extend educational
opportunities for the less-fortunate sectors of the population. He said
he realized that HU was a leading world institution and would be “very
happy to have it involved in the furthering of education” in Brazil.
was presented with a gift of two facsimiles of honorary certificates
that were given to Albert Einstein by Brazilian universities in 1925,
the same year that HU was founded by the outstanding physicist and
others.Judy Siegel contributed to this report.