Peres welcomes five new ambassadors

President predicts "dramatic and sensational" discoveries coming through cooperative ventures in science, technology.

Shimon Peres 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Shimon Peres 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Cooperative ventures in science and technology will soon supersede all other bilateral relationships, President Shimon Peres told five new ambassadors who presented their credentials to him on Thursday.
Peres conversed separately with ambassadors Zoran Basaraba of Serbia, Mihai Balan of Moldova, Abersalom (Archil) Kekelia of Georgia, Hector Aparicio of Panama and Tahamoana Aisea Cluny McPherson, the non-resident ambassador of New Zealand who is headquartered in Ankara. He told each of them of his prediction that within the next decade there will be “dramatic and sensational” discoveries that will change the world.
Basaraba brought greetings from Serbian President Boris Tadic, who he said is a great admirer of Peres and of the State of Israel. He also passed on Tadic’s invitation for Peres to visit Belgrade.
Although not as young as some of the other ambassadors, Basaraba was arguably more excited because he is not a career diplomat. Coming from the world of business, he told Peres that his strength is economics and he would focus on expanding the Israeli investment platform in Serbia.
Basaraba, who had arrived in Israel more than a month before, was delighted to inform Peres that he had hosted a reception in Israel to mark the anniversary of his country’s independence, and that the festivities had been held at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
Serbia, like several other countries that were part of the Soviet bloc, is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its diplomatic relations with Israel. In Serbia’s case, however, the relationship was formed at an earlier time – because the country was part of Yugoslavia, which renewed relations with Israel in October 1991 after having severed them almost a quarter of a century earlier. (Not long after the renewal of ties, Yugoslavia began to disintegrate. The two remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro initially united, then divided.) This was Balan’s second time around, having previously spent seven years as Moldava’s ambassador to Israel and since serving elsewhere. He was nonetheless excited to be presenting his credentials to Peres and forgot the rules of protocol, making his presentation without waiting to be introduced by Foreign Affairs Ministry chief of protocol Talya Lador-Fresher. Later, when Balan sat down with Peres for a tête-à-tête, he did not wait for the president to speak first as is customary, but launched into a long monologue that was disrupted only by his translator.
Balan brought greetings from Acting President Marian Lupu as well as incoming president Nicolae Timofti, whose investiture is scheduled to take place today. He thanked Peres for Israel’s support in Moldova’s development, which he said was very important since the country is becoming increasingly integrated with the rest of Europe and attempting to develop its democracy.
There are some 80,000 people of Moldovan background living in Israel, said Balan, who credited them with providing a bridge between the two countries. In this spirit, Prime Minister Vladimir Filat will pay an official visit to Israel from May 14-16.
Peres said that he was glad that Balan had opted to return to Israel and commended Moldova for its embrace of the democratic process, expressing confidence that it will pave the way for its reincorporation into Europe.
“We all have to live in larger coalitions and not just in small shells,” said Peres.
Like Basaraba, Georgia’s 30- year-old, Kekelia is launching his diplomatic career in Israel.
He is his country’s former deputy minister for economy and sustainable development.
Although Georgia is celebrating 20 years of diplomatic relations with Israel, Kekelia said the ties between the Georgian and Jewish people extend back 26 centuries: “We have common values and a common history of fighting for freedom and even for our existence – and today we have an independent Jewish state and an independent Georgian state,” he said.
On a personal level, Kekelia has something else in common with Israel. His maternal grandmother is Jewish, and although his great grandfather on his father’s side was a Christian priest, this not stop his grandfather from helping to build the synagogue in his village. Kekelia is not the only member of his embassy with Jewish roots, nor his he the first Georgian ambassador to Israel who can claim a Jewish mother or grandmother.
He intends to utilize his professional background in economy, investments and tourism to boost bilateral relations in all three areas.
Peres asked Kekelia to pass on Israel’s appreciation for how Georgia handled the recent terrorist attempt on its soil.
In keeping with his colleagues, Panama’s Aparicio brought greetings from President Ricardo Martinelli, who has visited Israel and whom Peres knows well. Aparacio said that his task would be to promote fraternity between the two countries and to enhance the historical agenda between the Panamian and Jewish peoples.
Peres expressed appreciation for Panama’s current goodwill towards its Jewish community and for allowing Jews who were escaping the Nazis in the 1930s to find a haven there.
He also favorably cited the country’s positions toward Israel in international forums.
A sign of good relations, Peres noted, was an economic agreement that the two countries will sign within the next few weeks.
New Zealand’s McPherson was the only envoy who appeared conscious of the fact that an ambassador is not only appointed by his own country, but has to be accepted by the host country. Accordingly, in his remarks to Peres, he thanked the Foreign Affairs Ministry for accepting him.
The occasion facilitated McPherson’s first visit to Israel, and he expressed hope that it would be one of many over the next four years. He added that he felt lucky to be taking the reins on behalf of his government at a time when the trajectory of relations with Israel was very positive.
Among those accompanying McPherson was prominent Israeli businessman Gad Propper, who for about 15 years has been New Zealand’s honorary consul in Israel. Peres, who is a long time friend of Propper’s, told McPherson that he was in good hands.
New Zealand is one of the few countries which the peripatetic president of Israel has not visited. McPherson told him that he would be welcome there at any time and noted that some 7,000 Israelis come to New Zealand each year. Peres responded that this indicated that there must be something special about the country. While Peres mentioned that it was a bit far to travel, he did not indicate that it was too far for him to go.
“It’s more a dream than a country,” Peres said, referring to his tenure as a shepherd on a kibbutz as a young man.
“When I look at your pastures and your sheep, I think ‘what a kibbutz!’” McPherson then discussed a project aimed at enhancing person-to-person relations between the two countries, which inaugurated a working holiday scheme. Each year, 200 people aged between 18- 30 may travel from Israel to New Zealand – and vice versa – and enjoy a year-long holiday while working in the host country to support themselves.
Within a month of the project being made public, McPherson added, it was fully subscribed – and now both countries are looking into the possibility of increasing the numbers of participants.
McPherson will return to Israel soon for the projected visit of New Zealand’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Murray McCully. He may also come back in April for ANZAC Day, which honors the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps veterans who fought in World War I.