Peres credits Guatemala with partial responsibility for birth of Israel

Otto Perez Molina is first Guatemalan president to pay official visit to Israel; says hopeful for successful outcome of peace process.

Peres and president of Guatelama Otto Perez Molina 370 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Peres and president of Guatelama Otto Perez Molina 370
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Shimon Peres on Monday credited Guatemala with being partly responsible for giving birth to Israel.
At the welcome reception that he hosted for Otto Perez Molina, the first Guatemalan president to pay an official visit to Israel, both Peres and Molina invoked the name of Jorge Garcia Granados who, as Guatemala’s ambassador to the United Nations, had in May 1947 been named by UN secretary-general Trygvie Lie as a member of the UN Special Committee of Palestine, more popularly known as UNSCOP .
The committee was charged with investigating the conflict in Palestine and making recommendations to the UN General Assembly about how the country should be governed in the future.
Garcia Granados, who was an ardent advocate for civil liberties, was very well disposed toward the Jews after what the Jewish people had suffered in the Holocaust, and as such was strongly in favor of the partition of Palestine, particularly in view of the fact that the British had turned away Holocaust survivors who sought to come to the Promised Land and banished them to Cyprus.
He also admired the agricultural achievements of the Jews in so many previously barren parts of the country. Of the 11 member countries of the UNSCOP team, the representative of Guatemala was the most persuasive, with the ultimate result that the UN General Assembly on November 29 had a majority vote in favor of partition, paving the way for the creation of the State of Israel.
Molina arrived in Israel on Sunday with a 21-member delegation that included, among others, Luis Fernando Carrera Castro, minister of foreign affairs; Manuel Lopez Ambrocio, minister of defense; Elmer Lopez Rodriguez, minister of agriculture and George Tanenbaum, president of the Guatemala Jewish community.
Due to the fact that so many ministers were abroad, the majority in Washington at the Saban Conference, Molina and his party were greeted on arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport by Deputy Minister for Liaison with the Knesset Ophir Akunis (Likud), who told them that Israel’s principal mission and that of the free world was to block Iran’s plans to develop nuclear weapons.
Peres told Molina that Israel would never forget the debt that it owed to Guatemala and would be happy to operate with Guatemala at every level.
He said that Molina was known as a great soldier and statesman who is now trying to solve the problems still confronting his country.
Peres, who visited Guatemala several years ago and was charmed by its beauty, expressed satisfaction that the civil war in Guatemala is now history and that the nation with its diverse cultures and ethnic populations has been reconciled and united.
Coming closer to home, Peres updated Molina on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and voiced the hope that an agreement will be reached.
In a reference to the peacemaking policies of deceased former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela, who he said had visited several times, Peres paid tribute to Mandela and former South African premier F.W. de Klerk, saying that without them the transformation of South Africa would not have happened.
The first time he had visited South Africa, Peres recalled, no one would have believed that such a transformation was possible, but it had come about because of the will and the courage of its initiators, and the same spirit should prevail between Israel and the Palestinians, he said.
On the subject of Iran, Peres was less magnanimous than he had been the previous day at the Globes Conference when, in answer to a question by CNN’s Richard Quest, he said he would have no problem in meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, because the goal was turning adversaries into friends. But on Monday Peres was back into his previous mode, saying that Iran had shown the ambition to attain hegemony in the Middle East and was a center of terrorism, developing long-range missiles which posed a threat to other countries, security in the region and the existence of Israel.
Now, with the interim agreement signed in Geneva, Iran is on trial for the next six months to see whether it will follow through with a change in policy, said Peres, adding that a diplomatic solution was always preferable to a military one, but “the whole world is determined to prevent a nuclear Iran.”
Molina was grateful that Israel had shared its agricultural know-how with 5,000 Guatemalan students who had been permitted to study here, and had brought back home the education they had acquired which enabled certain rural areas to overcome the problems of poverty. However, there are other rural areas where poverty is still rife, said Molina.
He said that Ambrocio was greatly interested in seeing Israel’s advanced military technology, Rodriguez was keen to look at the technology used to advance agriculture and Castro had his finger on the pulse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The welcome reception differed from the norm, due to the inclement weather. As a rule, the guest is welcomed by Peres just inside the gates of the presidential complex, after which the anthems are played by an IDF band, and the two presidents inspect the honor guard and then walk to the other side of the compound to shake hands with officials and heads of various religious communities in the reception line.
This time the band and the honor guard stood facing each other under the pergola at the entrance to the main hall in the building. Peres, wearing a heavy winter coat, waited at the edge of the pergola for a coatless Molina to emerge from his car. The two men stood to attention for the playing of the anthems while the wind whipped savagely at the legs of their trousers. They then strode inside across the red carpet without even acknowledging the honor guard, two thirds of which were sailors from the Israel Navy still dressed in white summer uniforms.