Livni Olmert 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Shimon Peres hosted his first presidential Rosh Hashana reception for the diplomatic corps Tuesday at Beit Hanassi with a mix of diplomatic commentary and fresh fruit.
Speaking in the aftermath of the Kassam attack on the Zikim army base, he said Israel needed very strong nerves to respond appropriately, and described the Kassams as "ideological" rather than political. Hamas was causing damage and killing hope, the president said. It had won Palestinian parliamentary elections by building up hope, but would ultimately lose "because of desperation and hatred."
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the assembled diplomats that Israel's greatest challenge "is the manipulation of religion by extremists who carry a message of hatred, instead of a message of forgiveness."
It was Israel's task, she continued, to act in accordance with a clear distinction between the moderates and the extremists. In this context, she said, "We will make use of any promising opportunity that comes our way to make a difference."
Over the next year, and even in the coming weeks, said Livni, Israel hoped to establish greater understanding "and the widest common ground possible," with moderate Palestinians, while fighting the extremists.
Livni also referred to Iran, saying: "Dealing effectively with the Iranian threat is a commitment that we must uphold, for our future and the future of the children of the world."
Nor did she forget to mention the three abducted Israeli soldiers; every family in Israel would be thinking of them as it sat down to the holiday table, she said.
The formal side of the reception was a little late in starting, because Peres was still meeting last-minute interview commitments. When he finally emerged, he and Livni stood in a receiving line as diplomats filed past, shook their hands and, in most cases, wished them "Shana Tova" rather than "Happy New Year."
On their way to their seats, most of the guests picked up a goblet of wine with which to toast the new year, the president and the State of Israel.
Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Cameroon Ambassador Henri Etoundi Essomba, who conveyed New Year greetings on behalf of his colleagues, spoke of the high esteem in which Peres is held among diplomats.
Essomba said that every opportunity to meet with Peres was highly appreciated by ambassadors and heads of mission. "Those are the most privileged moments that have been granted," he said, as he noted this was Peres's first official meeting with the diplomatic corps since his election.
Peres said that to receive a blessing from the ambassador of Cameroon was very special, because it reminded him of his visit to Cameroon, where he was welcomed with newspaper headlines in Hebrew.
Looking out at the sea of faces raised intently in his direction, Peres quipped that relations with the ambassadors of different countries had often been better than relations with the countries themselves. He thanked the ambassadors for making Israel better understood in their home countries.
Economics, education and environmental issues were becoming more and more of a global problem and a global hope, said Peres, with less definable borders creating new challenges. "Diplomacy must rise to the new challenge."
After the toasts, the diplomats were invited to enter the adjoining pavilion, in which there was a display of luscious fruits developed at the Volcani Institute and by farmers in the Galilee, the Negev and the Arava. The diplomats dipped apples in honey and sampled some of the more exotic fruits, including sweet, seedless mega-grapes. They also collected brochures and CDs about the produce.
Earlier Tuesday, Peres had entertained Quartet envoy Tony Blair for breakfast and later took him to the pavilion, where Blair was also enamored of the produce of the Holy Land.
Peres also met with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Tuesday. At the conclusion of their meeting, Kouchner said he would once again raise the question of the whereabouts and release of Gilad Schalit in meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other Egyptian dignitaries on Thursday.