Italian President Sergio Mattarella concluded his visit to Israel last week. The trip was his first official visit to the Middle East and President Mattarella highlighted the deep meaning of his decision to make this visit his first in the region.
“My choice is because of the longstanding friendship between Israel and Italy,” said the President during a meeting in Jerusalem with his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin. “We share the values of democracy in our lives and as President Rivlin pointed out, the roots of this relationship are planted deep in ancient history.”
The importance of this relationship was emphasized during the last day in Israel for the Italian President, a day in which he took part in the presentation of the National Museum of Italian Judaism of Ferrara (MEIS) in Tel Aviv.
“It is the first time we are speaking about the project of the Museum outside Italy”, said the Italian Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini, who was also visiting Israel. “We felt it was right to announce this project first in Israel”.
Also presenting the MEIS project to Mattarella and to the Israeli public were the director of the Museum Simonetta Della Seta, MEIS President Dario Disegni, the Mayor of Ferrara Tiziano Tagliani, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities Noemi Di Segni, who were part of the Italian President’s delegation. To acknowledge the importance of the occasion, Mayor Tagliani also brought with him the original manuscript of a very special book for Italian Jewry, “The Garden of the Finzi-Contini”, published in 1962.
President Mattarella spent four full days in Israel: he visited Yad Vashem, he met with President Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. With all of them, the Italian President expressed his concern about “the stagnation in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.”
“The absence of an outlook to renew the talks, he said, poses a problem for the idea of two states for two peoples. The stagnation risks leading to waves of unexpected radicalization. To my great sadness we see across the region the deepening of ethnic and religious gaps among all the parties. It is crucial to continue to work together for the sake of teaching tolerance through educational campaigns and improving public sensitivity.”
For his part, Netanyahu said that the Palestinians must recognize “the legitimacy and the existence of the Jewish state and, unless they give up their demons, it won’t be easy to find peace.”
“Thinking that the situation is tied only to the settlements is wrong, as well as thinking that the conflict in the Middle East is only a Palestinian matter”, Netanyahu went on. “On the contrary, it is a conflict between modernity and the middle ages,” he pointed out.
President Abbas commented that “The key to peace is in ending the Israeli occupation and ending the injustice faced by our people so that the two states, Palestine and Israel, can live in security, stability, peace with good neighborly relations.” Abbas also asked Italy to recognize the Palestinian State as other European countries have done. A decision that Israel consider an obstacle to restarting the peace process.
“For sure, finding a solution is up to the Israelis and to the Palestinians, said Mattarella. Friendly countries can contribute with respect and support, and this can be done particularly by Arab states.”
Visiting the Italian Community in Jerusalem, Mattarella added that “Italy defends the full right of Israel to live in peace and security. We say no to hatred and violence, whose incitement prevents peace. And we are strongly opposed to any boycott of Israel.”