Chilean president makes first to visit Israel

Peres lauds Pinera for heroism and determination in rescuing trapped miners.

Peres Pinera 311 (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Peres Pinera 311
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
President Shimon Peres and Chilean President Sebastian Pinero are on the same page with regard to peace in the Middle East impacting the world at large; a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and the potential of science- and technology-based economies for both Israel and a future Palestinian state.
These and other subjects occupied the two presidents when they met on Sunday at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, which has to a large extent become an adjunct of Beit Hanasssi, where the two would ordinarily have met, but for the fact that Beit Hanassi is undergoing renovations.
Immediately after their meeting, both presidents made statements to the media, on which they embellished soon after at a state luncheon that Peres hosted for Pinera.
Peres – who on many occasions in recent months has stated in one way or another that Pinera restored humanity to the world by remaining resolute in his determination to rescue the 33 miners trapped underground for 69 days – did so again, when he congratulated Pinera and called him a hero of our times.
Pinera for his part said that he had chosen to come halfway around the world to meet with Peres, who has dedicated his life to peace and freedom.
Pinera attributed this dedication to the fact that Peres lost a large number of close family members to Nazi atrocities.
“I always respected the work of this great man Shimon Peres, who came at a young age to the promised land.
Those of his relatives who remained behind were burnt alive in the synagogue. Perhaps that is why he decided to devote himself to peace, freedom and progress.”
Pinera, who has previously visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority on several occasions in his pre-presidential capacities, is a man who obviously likes to make history. An economist by training and a highly successful businessman, he brought the credit card revolution to Chile and channeled his entrepreneurial skills toward a construction company, a publishing house, a television channel, a large regional airline and a soccer team.
He was also active in Chile’s transition towards democracy.
Almost exactly a year ago, and less than two weeks after a major earthquake, he came into office as head of the first right-of-center government in two decades.
He also happened to be president in the year in which his country celebrated its bicentennial, and he can now boast that he is the first president of Chile to visit Israel, even though Chile officially recognized Israel in February 1949, nine month after Israel’s declaration of independence.
“We have always recognized the rights of the Jewish people to a free, democratic and secure state, and we also recognize the rights of the Palestinian people to their state,” said Pinera.
Peres lauded Pinera for overseeing Chile’s splendid recovery from the widespread and horrific damage caused by the earthquake, as well as for creating jobs that have had an enormously positive effect on the economy. Chile was one of the poorest countries in Latin America, said Peres, but now has advanced to the extent that nearly all her citizens can live in dignity and freedom.
Peres noted that both Israel and Chile recently became members of the OECD.
Chile’s “Start-Up” program is bound to attract a lot of hitech initiatives and the development of local technologybased industries, he predicted, adding that Chile has more trade agreements than any other country in the world, and hopefully will add Israel to its list of trade agreements.
On a somewhat lighter note, Peres hoped that one of Chile’s exports to Israel would be the harmony that exists with its Palestinian and Jewish communities. Chile hosts one of the world’s largest Palestinian expatriate communities, numbering around 350,000, and a strong Jewish community of around 25,000. The two communities contribute separately and together to Chile’s economy and culture – and in fact to many other facets of Chile’s society.
Turning closer to home and to the significant political uprisings in the region, Peres said that the wave of protest demonstrations came not from religious or political organizations or from the army, but were like a spontaneous geyser that rose from the depths of the earth.
Participants in the rallies were primarily young people, Peres underscored, saying that the whole world must help to give the young the taste of freedom.
The battle in the Middle East today, he continued, is between moderate governments that seek peace and freedom and despotic governments that want to impose their hegemony on others.
“The moderates don’t shoot at demonstrators. The fanatics shoot and kill. The moderates have a message for the future.
The fanatics have only hatred and no message.”
Peres singled out the Iranian dictatorship as the most radical, not only because of its nuclear programs but also because it finances and arms Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Hezbollah has divided Lebanon and brought an end to its Christian character, he said, and Hamas has split the Palestinians and has prevented them from continuing with the peace negotiations.
Iran, he said, has established terror cells beyond the Middle East, including South America.