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Era of new beginnings

Reuven Rivlin, President of the State of Israel
Reuven Rivlin, President of the State of Israel

Reuven Rivlin, President of the State of Israel, believes that novel people-to-people connections will form the basis for a warm peace, bringing stability and prosperity to the region. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Rhonita Patnaik:

Published: Thu 28 Jan 2021, 3:26 PM

What are your thoughts on the UAE-Israel ties? Do you believe that this is a gamechanger for global peace?

As a member of a family who has been in Jerusalem for seven generations, and the son of a father who translated the Holy Quran from Arabic to Hebrew, I still remember the days when Jews, Muslims and Christians would sit together on our balcony in Jerusalem. For years, I dreamt that these days would return, and for years, I wasn't sure that I would see this miracle with my own eyes. But now, that dream is becoming true, and we are seeing tremendous and wonderful change in the region.

I would like to express my appreciation for the vision and courage of the leaders of the UAE and for the spirit of tolerance and respect which they have spread. Without this brave leadership, these relations would not have been possible.

Over the last several months, I have felt a great outpouring of good will and a desire by both Emiratis and Israelis to get to know one another. Even with the restrictions on travel due to Covid-19, many Israelis have already visited the UAE. We hope to welcome many visitors here from the UAE in Israel, as soon as it is possible. I strongly believe that it is these people-to-people connections that will form the basis for a warm and vibrant peace, bringing stability and prosperity to our region.

I know that we still have a great deal of work ahead, particularly in finding a way for Israelis and Palestinians to live together. I hope that the new relationships Israel is building across the region will be a catalyst for that, inspiring confidence in the possibility of building trust between us and the Palestinians so that we can live in security and confidence. That is my hope and my belief. We were not doomed to live together, but rather destined to live with each other.

In your opinion, what are the political, cultural and economic of the bilateral relationships?

Let me start by saying that Israel has no quarrel with the Arab world, and no war with Islam. Over our history, the Jewish people lived and flourished across the Arab world. Now the State of Israel is home to a diverse population of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and others who all share full and equal rights as citizens. Over 40 years ago, we made peace with the Arab Republic of Egypt, and for over a quarter of a century we have peace with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. These relationships, which ended many years of hostility and brought great stability, show the potential for the agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

But I believe we can go further. There is great potential for economic cooperation based on our unique strengths and our shared experience of building modern societies on ancient traditions. From modest beginnings, we have both turned deserts into thriving global hubs of innovation and excellence. By working together, I believe we can complement each other, turning our region into the world's most exciting economy.

We are both young countries that respect our traditions and are proud of our ancient heritage. We also share many cultural similarities, prioritising education and tolerance and a shared spirit of overcoming any challenge. It is our shared human spirit that will show us the way forward. As the founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, said: "No matter how many buildings, foundations, schools and hospitals we build, or how many bridges we raise, the real spirit behind progress is the human spirit." While leaders may open the doors to peace, it is the people on both sides who must walk through these open doors and turn the potential of peace into reality.

What are the business opportunities for the Middle East in Israel?

The establishment of relations between Israel and the UAE is an excellent opportunity for Israeli and Emirati business people to learn about each other's economy, and identify win-win opportunities across many fields. In just over 70 years, within my own lifetime, Israel has developed from a newly-independent state facing existential threats both to its security and its economic viability into the world's innovation centre, the start-up nation. By seeing every challenge as an opportunity, we have built a state that I truly believe is a miracle.

Today, Israel has more startup companies per capita than any other nation - from finance and industry to security and sustainability, and from tourism and health to science, culture and arts, and we are eager to work together with partners to develop the best ideas into technologies and businesses that make our world a better place.

A lot of the people in the Middle East are now excited to travel to Israel. How would you promote the country in your own words?

Ahlaan wa'sahlaan! We are very excited to welcome visitors from across the region to visit us. Jerusalem, the city where I and seven generations of my family are from, is built on the values of tolerance and mutual respect. It is a thriving, diverse city where Jews, Muslims, Christians and members of all religions can worship and live freely. It is also place where the history of the world meets, layer upon layer of fascinating stories, illuminated by art, architecture and culture.

But Israel has so much more to offer. Tel Aviv is a busy, bustling city at the cutting edge of modern culture and is our economic and business centre. The north is lush and green, home to the Sea of Galilee, and winter visitors can even ski at Mt Hermon. The desert of the south is where we have developed water technologies that use brackish water for irrigation to grow crops that are exported around the world, as well as innovative solar energy technologies that we are sharing with developing and developed countries to ensure green, safe and sustainable energy into the future.

I truly believe that Israel has something to offer every visitor. We look forward to welcoming you, whatever your interests are.

What have been your highlights to date as the President of Israel?

For some leaders, being received by the American president at the White House, or by the Pope at the Vatican would stand out. My foreign trips have certainly been an opportunity to represent Israel across the world and to discuss the issues that matter to us. They are also a way of developing important channels of communication. In the same way, welcoming guests here has been an important part of my presidency. Earlier this year, I had the privilege of hosting over 50 global leaders in Jerusalem to mark the somber and solemn occasion of the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz-Birkenau and to draw attention to the rise in contemporary antisemitism around the world. Together, we renewed our joint commitment to fighting racism, hatred and xenophobia in all its forms.

But, for me, the moments from my presidency that have moved me most are the times that Beit HaNasi, the office of the president of Israel and the home of all the Israeli people, has brought together Israelis from all the different parts of our diverse society.

At the beginning of my term in office, I set out a vision where the various tribes of Israel work more closely together, sharing their unique perspectives and values to create a greater sense of shared 'Israeliness'. Over the last six and a half years, we have developed programmes in the fields of academia, schools, local government, sports and employment, where Israelis of all kinds come together under the banner of Tikvah Israelit, Israeli Hope, to create a better future for us all. It is that hope - which is, after all, the name of our national anthem - that gives me the greatest pride and the confidence that our future, like our past and our present, will be bright.

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