The Chilean President’s Eventful Visit to Jerusalem

June 27, 2019

by: Kate Norman

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomes Chilean President Piñera to Jerusalem.

Thursday, 27 June 2019 | Chilean President Sebastián Piñera wraps up a three-day visit to Israel this afternoon. The president, who favors a two-state solution, visited both Israeli and Palestinian officials during his trip.

The South American diplomat made waves when he broke protocol and visited the Temple Mount accompanied by Palestinian political officials. According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel has an agreement with Chile that visiting officials will only tour the Temple Mount accompanied by officials from the Waqf (Muslim religious trust), which has official control over the site in order to keep the disputed area under neutral jurisdiction.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it “takes seriously any infringement of Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount, especially one that violates an agreed-upon procedure.”

“We must distinguish between absolute freedom of worship that Israel safeguards…and ensuring that our sovereignty over the Temple Mount is not harmed,” the statement continued.

The Foreign Ministry summoned Chile’s ambassador to Israel for an official reprimand at the direction of Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

The next day, Piñera apologized to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin while visiting the president’s residence in Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem Post reported that the Chilean Embassy sent a letter of apology to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Piñera asserted that it was a “private” visit and that he had no knowledge beforehand that the Palestinian officials would be present and was not aware during the visit that they were there.

The two presidents held a joint conference in which they exchanged words of friendship and cooperation between their nations. Rivlin, however, told Piñera—who will be visiting Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas today—to send a message to the Palestinians, who have boycotted the entire US-led peace proposal process, including an economic conference held in Bahrain that discussed economic progress for the Palestinian people under the “Deal of the Century.”

“Peace is the aspiration of the people of Israel,” Rivlin told the Chilean president. “The gaps between us and the Palestinians are great, but we must begin with small steps of cooperation, and not to boycott or refuse plans that will improve our economic and social situation.

“We must cooperate in every field where we can work together,” Rivlin continued. “That is the only way.”

By Wednesday afternoon, all was well as Piñera and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a joint conference—each speaking highly of the other and the growing relationship between the nations—before the Chilean president and his wife joined the Netanyahus for dinner at the prime minister’s residence.

Netanyahu spoke of the similarities between Israel and Chile as innovative nations who have achieved much in the international arena. “We discussed how we can increase the cooperation and exchanges between Chile and Israel, both on the governmental level and no less important on the company to company level, on the private sector level,” Netanyahu said at yesterday’s joint press conference. “When we last saw each other at the inauguration of President Bolsonaro in Brazil, we made a commitment to upgrade that cooperation and we are fulfilling that today.”

The leaders, accompanied by their delegations of ministers, signed eight agreements to increase cooperation in innovation, including programs in science, aviation and health.

Piñera visited other holy sites on Tuesday, including the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Mount of Olives, where he held an outdoor press conference. The president confirmed to reporters that Chile will not move its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

“The Chilean Embassy will remain in Tel Aviv,” Piñera declared. “Chile defends and is in favor of a two-state solution—an Israeli state and a Palestinian state.”

Piñera is wrapping up his eventful trip with a visit to PA President Abbas in Ramallah today before boarding a plane to Japan for the G20 summit.

Posted on June 27, 2019

Source: (Bridges for Peace, June 27, 2019)

Photo Credit: Youtube/IsraeliPM/Screenshot