Peres: Obama is ‘a great friend’ of Israel

President assures new US ambassador Shapiro that not all in Israel feel US president is is unfavorably disposed to Israel.

Peres with US Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro 311  (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Peres with US Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro 311
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Aware that many Israelis feel US President Barack Obama is unfavorably disposed to Israel, President Shimon Peres sought to assure new US Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro, who arrived in Israel two weeks ago, that he does not share that opinion.
Peres told Shapiro, the third of four envoys to present their credentials to Peres on Wednesday: “I consider the president of the United States, Barack Obama, as a friend of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel. I don’t have any doubts about it. We may have our differences, but he represents the best traditions of the United States with regard to Israel.”
Noting Obama’s declared commitment to Israel’s safety and security, he added: “We are in agreement on the path to peace.” He told Shapiro – as he had told Slovakia’s Radovan Javorcik and Germany’s Andreas Michaelis earlier in the day – that the Palestinians were making a mistake in asking the UN to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state.
“The Palestinians themselves have doubts,” said Peres, insisting, as he always does, that unless the sides can resolve the remaining differences between them, “no declaration will help.”
He added that “The UN can declare peace, but it cannot make peace,” citing as an example its inability to stop Iran‘s nuclear program.
Most problems between Israel and the Palestinians, said Peres, had been resolved, and the greatest contribution to peace on both sides was hope. “The Palestinian majority and the Israel majority both want peace,” Peres said.
Beginning to build their state was a right Palestinian decision, he said, because people wanted to see some tangible result of peace.
Peres said he was glad to see Shapiro in his new role, “because you know the issues and can enter into the heart of the problem.” Shapiro, formerly senior director for the Middle East and North Africa on the National Security Staff at the White House, said he was “proud, honored and humble” to represent the US in Israel.
He confirmed Obama’s commitment to the existence and security of Israel, and said it was his mission to strengthen the existing strong ties and work for the peace and security at the heart of relations between the two countries.
A fluent Hebrew speaker, Shapiro told Peres he imagined most of their future discussions would be in English, but felt the need to say something in “Ivrit.” He then launched into a lengthy address in Hebrew, calling relations between the US and Israel “the most important and strongest in the world” based on common values cherished by countries united in the struggle against the same threats – an excellent strategic partnership, and a moral one. His presence in Israel was a sign of Obama’s commitment to the deepening and enhancing of relations, Shapiro noted.
Relating to questions about Israel’s legitimacy and threats to her existence, Shapiro said: “As allies, we will combat these threats, and at the same we will look for opportunities in the new Middle East with the aim of building peace between Israel and her neighbors.”
Over the past two years, he said, he had worked closely with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and would continue to do so, but he also wanted to have an ongoing dialogue with all sectors of the Israeli population.
Rising to propose the toast, Peres said he didn’t know whether to do so in Hebrew or in English. Finally, he did it in both, saying how happy Israel was to have Shapiro as an ambassador of the “great and wonderful country which has stood by our side for such a long time.” Peres said he wanted to thank the Obama, “who is a great friend of our country,” for his peace-making efforts which, Peres was certain, would eventually bear fruit.
Peres and Shapiro with their respective aides then sat down to a closed-door session.
When Shapiro emerged to sign the Beit Hanassi guest book, he was asked by The Jerusalem Post why Esther Pollard had not been informed of the hospital to which her husband, Jonathan, had been transferred, nor of his current state of health. Shapiro ignored the question, waved to the phalanx of media and headed for the exit.
To Slovakia’s Javorcik, whose wife Michelle spent three weeks on Jerusalem in 1997 on a Ministry of Foreign Affairs course for young diplomats, Peres could not resist mentioning the separation between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which had previously existed not side by side as today, but as a single Czechoslovakian entity.
“For the past 20 years, we have had the best relations in our history,” said Javorcik, alluding to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and implying it really was better to live side by side. Jacorcik said Slovakia was carefully monitoring developments in the region and that his government was interacting with Egyptian NGOs to give them the benefit of the Slovakian experience in transforming from an autocratic to a pluralistic system.
This is the second time around for Germany’s Michaelis and his wife, Heike, and their daughters.
He first came to Israel as a junior diplomat nearly 20 years ago, bringing along a five-week-old baby. His second daughter was born in Israel.
Reminded by Peres of the special relationship between Israel and Germany, Michaelis said that he felt the weight of the responsibility.
In proposing the toast, Peres said he had the highest regard for President Christian Wulff and admiration for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, through her honesty and seriousness, had won public confidence. “We are lucky to have her as a friend,” he said.
When it came to Nauru’s Marlene Moses, Peres recalled that she had accompanied Nauru President Marcus Stephen on an historic first visit to Israel some 18 months ago, and that Stephen had promised her then that he would appoint her ambassador to Israel.
Moses is a non-resident ambassador stationed in New York.
Nauru, and many other Pacific islands, she explained, have no rivers or lakes, just the sea, which threatens to submerge them. In addition, all of Nauru’s underground water is contaminated, and Nauru would like to take advantage of Israel’s expertise in water technology to overcome this problem.
Peres promised to put the best experts at her disposal.
Nauru is also developing its fish industry, another area in which Israel has expertise, and Peres said that he would arrange to have her meet fish breeding experts as well.
Nauru is the world’s smallest republic. As far as its relations with Israel go, said Moses, “our size belies the depth of our friendship.”