A diplomatic Shana Tova

Peres and Leiberman provide ambassadors with ‘the most pessimistic and optimistic voices in our country.’

Peres, Lieberman at Beit Hanassi 311 (photo credit: Ilya Yefimovich/JINI)
Peres, Lieberman at Beit Hanassi 311
(photo credit: Ilya Yefimovich/JINI)
The long fleet of luxury cars with white CD license plates that drove along the capital’s Jabotinsky Street on Monday disgorged scores of ambassadors and chargés d’affaires at Beit Hanassi, for the annual Rosh Hashana reception hosted by President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Unlike on Independence Day, there were no spouses or military attachés.
Dominating the buffet were the pomegranates traditionally associated with Rosh Hashana, and which like apples, were dipped in honey. For several of the diplomats, this was a new gastronomic experience, which they appeared to enjoy greatly.
The occasion provided an opportunity for Hebrew-speaking Bulgarian Ambassador Dimiter Tzantchev to bid farewell to his colleagues. He has been summoned home to take up the position of deputy foreign minister, and will leave Israel next Tuesday.
For those from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, it was an opportunity to wish their director-general Yossi Gal a happy birthday.
Also in attendance were ambassadors-designate representing Guatemala, Norway and Sweden.
The latter, Elinor Hammarskjold, is the great niece of Dag Hammarskjold, the second secretary-general of the United Nations.
When reminded of the deterioration of relations between Israel and Sweden, the vivacious Hammarskjold told The Jerusalem Post: “I’m looking forward to the challenge of working on our relationship.”
British Ambassador-designate Matthew Gould, his country’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel, just missed out on the reception and is due to arrive on Sunday in time to attend Yom Kippur services.
The new Canadian and Costa Rican ambassadors are also due to arrive soon, but as yet the Foreign Ministry has received no word from Jordan as to who will replace Ambassador Ali al- Ayed, who has been appointed his country’s minister of state for media affairs and communications.
At the commencement of formalities, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps Henri Etoundi Essomba, the ambassador of Cameroon, paid tribute to the role played by Peres over the years in the attempt to achieve peace, and said that the diplomats were pleased to be his guests at a time when significant progress had been achieved enabling Israel and the Palestinians to make a step forward.
Essomba lauded the government, which he said had demonstrated a great sense of leadership in the quest for peace.
Both Lieberman and Peres referred to improvement in the quality of life of the Palestinians living on the West Bank and the easing of their freedom of movement.
“To resolve the conflict in the region is to ensure that people experience improvement in their lives,” said Lieberman, who stressed the importance of encouraging economic growth and urged the international community to help by investing and engaging in significant infrastructure projects.
Lieberman noted that assistance and concessions on the part of Israel to the Palestinians had been forthcoming even though Hamas continues to engage in activities aimed at Israel’s destruction and is still denying soldier Gilad Schalit his basic rights, such as a visit from a representative of the Red Cross.
Israel remained the target for suicide bombers and other violence and incitement, Lieberman said.
He expected the direct talks with the Palestinian Authority to continue regardless of differences of opinion, he said, but he would prefer that those differences be expressed between the parties concerned rather than via the media.
He was not willing to accept any preconditions including the freezing of settlement construction. Israel signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan despite the settlement issue, he underscored.
Peres caused a laugh when he rose to speak by telling his guests that they had been provided with something special: “the most pessimistic and the most optimistic voices in our country.” (Lieberman has made several statements in recent days in which he expressed doubt that the talks would lead to anything.)
Peres said that wherever he goes and the subject of the direct talks is raised, he is asked: “Are they serious?”
His answer he said is that they are serious but that there are legitimate reservations. “Leaders don’t decide alone on situations. Situations sometimes make decisions for leaders.”
To those who would ask whether the time is ripe for peace, Peres’s unequivocal response is “yes! If you say no, you have to ask yourself: And then what?”
The diplomatic differences between Israel and the Palestinians are known, he said, and everyone has suggestions as to how to overcome them. For Peres it’s also a matter of attitude.
“We have to be mature.”
The Iranian nuclear threat, in the president’s opinion, is making Arab states more amenable to peace, because they do not want to go back to being occupied by imperialist rulers as they were for centuries before the French and the British withdrew from their countries.
Their political independence is being threatened by a regime that wants to be another empire in the Middle East, and that has added a nuclear potential that didn’t exist before, Peres said.
The Arabs states do not want to fall victim to a new nuclear empire, Peres declared, and warned of the dangers of science and technology in the wrong hands. “Technology without values is a dark cloud in the skies of our lives. If we don’t have values, if we don’t have principles, we are lost.”
After the ceremony, Peres and Lieberman and their guests went out into the garden to mingle and to raise a toast to the New Year.
Peres spoke briefly to several ambassadors but spent quite some time talking to French Ambassador Christophe Bigot. Lieberman almost immediately grabbed Russian Ambassador Piotr Stegny and took him aside for a private tête-à-tête. They stood in splendid isolation, away from the crowd under an olive tree, almost oblivious to the media who waited with bated breath for some indication of what they were discussing.
As he concluded, Lieberman turned to the media and said: “They’re trying to solve problems in one year that they couldn’t solve in 17 years.”