Portugal is interested in contributing to efforts to bring peace and stability to the Middle East, because what happens in the Middle East affects the rest of the world and Europe in particular, Portuguese Foreign Minister Prof. Augusto Santos Silva told President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday.
Silva was on his second visit to Israel, having previously attended the funeral of Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres, at the end of September.
Peres was a very important statesman for Portugal, in that he supported the democratic transition of Portugal, Silva told Rivlin.
Congratulating Silva on the election of former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres as the incoming United Nations secretary- general on January 1, when incumbent Ban Ki-moon concludes his second five-year term, Rivlin said that despite occasional disagreements, Israel had good relations with the outgoing secretary-general.
He asked Silva to remind Guterres “that he has to take care of us,” because the majority of United Nations countries is not well disposed towards Israel. “We are part of the family of nations,” said Rivlin, by way of protest at UN attitudes toward Israel in comparison to the slack that it cuts for other members, such as Syria.
Silva pointed out that, in the complex system of UN rules, a majority does not always apply.
“Complexity is one of the ways to reach a good decision,” he said.
As for Guterres, Silva who served as education minister in the former prime minister’s government and is also his personal friend, said that “he knows Israel and the complexities of the Middle East and the importance of the security of Israel to the whole of the Middle East.”
As a member of NATO and the European Union, Portugal is among Israel’s allies, said Silva, adding “the stabilization of the Middle East is important to us, and it is not possible without guaranteeing the security of Israel.”
Silva also noted that Portugal shares Israel’s principles of democracy and human rights, and that it is very important for Portugal to improve bilateral and trilateral cooperation. In the latter context, he included relations with Africa.
As is the case in all of Rivlin’s meetings with foreign dignitaries, much of the conversation was taken up with the threat of terrorism from ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran, which Israel regards as the greatest sponsor of terrorism.
“Hamas is a great threat to all of us, as is ISIS” Silva concurred. “In fact we are their target.”
Portugal was among the territories occupied by the Moors more than 500 years ago, and is included in the ISIS plan to take over the Iberian Peninsula by 2020.
“We have to maintain a dialogue with moderate forces in Islam,” said Silva, who is convinced that radical extremist elements can be defeated if the positions of moderate forces are strengthened.
In discussing the revitalization of the peace process with the Palestinians, there was a minor battle of semantics between the president and his guest.
Rivlin consistently refers to the status quo as a tragedy, whereas Silva referred to it as a conflict, explaining that conflicts can be resolved.
Another consistent aspect of Rivlin’s discussions relating to the Palestinians is the crisis in confidence and the inability to resume peace negotiations until there is a mutual build-up of confidence.
Silva considers the Palestinians to be among the moderates, and as he was scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas the following day, asked Rivlin what message he could convey to him.
The very question illustrated the gap between Europe and the Middle East.
Rivlin replied that he frequently talks to Abbas, and when they talk to each other, they are on first name terms.