Grapevine: Who’s holding the Trump card?

“The State of Israel holds its relations with the states of Africa as a national priority."

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May 4, 2017 19:44
NETHERLANDS AMBASSADOR Gilles Arnout Beschoor Plug meets President Reuven Rivlin in this file photo.

NETHERLANDS AMBASSADOR Gilles Arnout Beschoor Plug meets President Reuven Rivlin in this file photo.. (photo credit: GPO)

 
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There is a rumor going around that President Donald Trump will be staying at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem hotel, but according to people in the know at the King David Hotel, Trump, like his presidential predecessors, will stay at the King David, even though the reservation has not yet been confirmed.

A senior staff member at the Waldorf said that the Americans had indeed inspected the hotel and that Trump, with his “Make America great again” slogan, had been insistent on a hotel with a brand name that originated in America and whose corporate headquarters are in America, even though the brand has long been global.

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But the Waldorf Astoria, despite the POTUS insistence on staying there, could not quite meet the American demands, whereas the King David has been catering to demands for American presidents, secretaries of state and other high-ranking officials for a very long time.

Still, if he’s so insistent, Trump can still go to the Waldorf for dinner. It’s only a three-minute walk from the King David, and he would doubtless be taken in a car. Then again, if Foreign Ministry workers threaten to sabotage the visit by going on strike, Trump may decide to postpone his visit indefinitely.

SOMETHING THAT nearly all embassies in Israel have in common is a guest list for national day events. At least half of each one’s guest lists contains the same names – colleagues from other embassies, government ministers, members of Knesset, religious leaders, heads of international organizations, honorary consuls, business leaders, etc.

Because the calendar is limited and because countries have their national days if not on the same date, then in the same week as other countries, sometimes there are two national day events on the same date and at more or less the same time.

That’s what happened when the King’s Day reception hosted by Netherlands Ambassador Gilles Arnout Beschoor Plug and his wife, Louise, and the Freedom Day reception hosted by South African Ambassador Sisa Ngombane and his wife, Thatanyana, fell on the same day last week.



It’s not so bad when both sets of hosts live close to each other in Herzliya Pituah, or when they choose to hold their receptions in hotels that are within easy walking distance of each other. But this was not the case. The Dutch residence is in Herzliya Pituah, and the South African residence is in Ramat Gan, and Thursday is the worst night of the week for intercity traffic. Most people who were invited to both receptions went to the Dutch one first, but did not stay long enough to listen to the speeches and, because of traffic congestion, also missed the speeches at the South African reception.

Plug, following the example of some of his colleagues, greeted his guests in Hebrew, but also included the Arabic expression for welcome, and said in Hebrew the evening was a celebration of connections and bridges. Switching to English, he said that over the past year, the friendship between Israel and the Netherlands has deepened, with many more Israelis visiting his country.

The Netherlands is still No. 4 in export markets for Israel and in the top five for Israeli investments, said Plug, adding that he finds this quite unbelievable for such small countries of modern traders, but he considered this “a nice illustration of our deep relationship.”

He then listed some of the similarities and areas of cooperation between the two countries and the way in which they work together to confront many of the challenges in the world today.

“We are like-minded and comparable in size and attitude. We cooperate in many fields that we both consider important for our future and the world, and I always like to say we share the same kind of DNA. We constantly rejuvenate ourselves. Innovation is an important word for us.”

Plug illustrated what he meant by innovation by directing attention to the water curtain over his swimming pool. “You have been wondering what it is,” he remarked to his guests and explained that “it is an ingenious piece of Dutch innovation called Perihelion and shows a moving planetarium.” He proudly stated that “it combines our Dutch heritage of managing water with innovative Dutch techniques.” Its inventor, Thijs Biersteker, was present and later stood near the pool to explain his invention to anyone who was interested.

Innovation has a high priority with embassy staff, and Plug took the opportunity to introduce Marco Braeken, the new head of the Dutch Embassy’s innovation, investment and trade section. Braeken had arrived in Israel earlier in the week in order to utilize the reception as a vehicle for meeting some of the people with whom he will be dealing in future.

Because more people were invited to the reception than in previous years, the next-door neighbors were asked whether the embassy could use their garden for serving some of the Dutch delicacies. The neighbors graciously agreed. Plug called this another example of Israeli-Dutch cooperation, adding that the fence between the two gardens had been broken down for this purpose. The underlying message was not lost on the politically minded.

Plug also read out a congratulatory message that he had sent to King Willem-Alexander, in which he made specific reference to relations between Holland and Israel. He subsequently said specifically to his Israeli guests: “Our message is not always easy to appreciate or understand, since it also carries criticism where we think it is needed. It is an openness that Israelis are no stranger to. Again, we share the same DNA. But this criticism always comes out of a concern for the people and the State of Israel. Let me assure you, you matter to us. We do care.”

The national anthems of both countries were performed by the trumpet players of the Philips Symphony Orchestra, who were visiting Israel this week, and who during their time here played with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, who represented the government, elevated Plug in status by addressing him as “Your Highness” instead of “Your Excellency,” but Israelis have a problem with that kind of thing.

Akunis declared that “the Netherlands is one of Israel’s best friends the world over, and in Europe in particular,” and spoke of the long tradition of friendship between the two countries and the two peoples. He said that Israel is closely following the efforts to create a coalition and a new government in The Hague, following the recent elections. Akunis, like Plug, mentioned the strong trade relations as well as relations on other levels, “which are given almost daily expression in the large number of delegation visits.”

Turning to sport, he said: “There is no doubt that the Netherlands holds a very special place in the hearts and souls of every Israeli, especially in the hearts of the fans of the Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer team, whose sports director, Jordi Cruyff, is the son of the great footballer, remembered well by us all – Johan Cruyff.”

At the political level, Akunis spoke of the visit to the Netherlands in September last year by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and of his meetings with the king, with his counterpart, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, members of parliament and with many more of Israel’s friends in the Netherlands.

In this context, Akunis referred to recent developments in Europe, the most important of which, he said, is the growing threat of terrorism throughout the continent. This forces the Netherlands to face the challenge of this threat as well, he said. He also referred to the threat from cyber warfare.

FOR Ngombane, this was his last Freedom Day celebration in Israel. He is due to complete his term at the end of this year. Ngombane spoke with pride of the 21st anniversary of the amended Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and said that it is one of the most progressive constitutions in the world.

Freedom Day marks the end of apartheid in South Africa, but South Africans, Ngombane admitted, are questioning whether the government has lived up to the Constitution. He did not say whether it has or it hasn’t, but declared that “we aim to do better.”

South Africa, he was happy to report, has overcome its energy problems and is ready to export electricity, and hopes to work with Israel in the energy field.

No Freedom Day celebration is complete without mention of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, heroes of the antiapartheid movement, and Ngombane was lavish in his references to both. This year marks the centenary of Tambo’s birth. Tambo served as president of the African National Congress from 1967 to 1991. Tambo had learned from other people’s revolutions and had also learned from the enemy, so that he could avoid making the enemy’s mistakes, said Ngombane.

Ngombane spoke of the huge strides that South Africa has made in its bid to be a true democracy, and of the efforts that are being made toward building a crime-free society, with the aim of making South Africa safer and improving the quality of life.

As Freedom Day this year was celebrated only a few days prior to Independence Day, Ngombane, in congratulating Israel “on another milestone of independence,” recalled the United Nations Resolution of November 1947, which paved the way for the establishment of the state, but noted that “the process is not complete and another state must be created in order for the process to be completed.” South Africa has consistently supported the concept of a two-state solution, which Ngombane advocated yet again.

Ngombane said that former South Africans living in Israel wanted to mark the contribution of prime minister Jan Smuts to that historic UN resolution that helped to create the State of Israel. Smuts had for many years advocated segregation and disenfranchisement for Black Africans but later changed his attitude and had sided with those who were opposed to apartheid.

Representing the government, Yoram Elron, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Africa Section, lauded the Rainbow Nation as “a mosaic of cultures and languages.” He said that it is committed to pluralism and to its democratic spirit.

South Africa was among those countries that was a haven for persecuted Jews. “It is well known that Jews have deep historical roots in South Africa. Many Jews, while escaping persecution in Europe, arrived to South Africa, where they found safe haven for which we, the government of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole, remain grateful until this day and forever after,” said Elron.

Over the years, he continued, the Jewish immigrants integrated and assimilated themselves with the local population. They became an integral part of the South African society and contributors to the South African academic, economic and democratic process.

Quoting Netanyahu, Elron said: “The State of Israel holds its relations with the states of Africa as a national priority. The phrase ‘Israel is returning to Africa and Africa is returning to Israel’ is not empty rhetoric but a key tenet and guideline for action in the Foreign Ministry today,” he said.

Referring to Netanyahu’s historic visit to Africa in July 2016, Elron revealed that the prime minister intends to make two additional visits later this year. One is scheduled for this coming June, to the ECOSOC summit in Monrovia. The second, in autumn, will be to a summit in Togo. The main purpose of these visits is to show in a practical way that “Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is coming back to Israel,” he said.

Elron outlined some of the steps that have been decided on by the government to facilitate Israel’s return to Africa. These will focus on economic issues and cooperation in those areas most important to African states: development, counterterrorism, water issues, agriculture and medical know-how and services. South Africa is Israel’s largest African trade partner, making up 40% of Israel’s overall trade with the entire continent. Cooperation in different areas, includes progressive methods of agriculture, clean energy, education, water tech, hi-tech and additional areas of research and development.

Elron said that he has no doubt that there is still great potential for further diversification and cooperation, including South Africa’s cooperation in promoting the integration of Israel in African organizations for the benefit of the African continent as a whole.

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