n the past, Nelson Mandela, the former and recently deceased president of South Africa, wanted to help Israel and the Palestinians to resolve their conflict. Now, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaska wants to help in that direction as well.
Rajapaska, who is on an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, is his country’s first head of state to come to Israel even though diplomatic and other ties between the two countries have existed almost as long as their independence, which in each case was gained in 1948.
In welcoming his Sri Lankan counterpart to his residence on Thursday, President Shimon Peres hailed him as a great leader who was successful in bringing peace, reconciliation and restoration to his people “which is not a small achievement.”
Acknowledging that his guest was well aware of the difficulties of bringing peace to people who have long experienced hostility and violence, Peres told Rajapaska that Israel follows his achievements with great admiration.
“You have come here as a leader with an impressive record. You have invested your heart and mind and days and nights in peace, and you are seeing the fruits. You have come to a region still in search of peace and reconciliation. Israel is determined to make peace.”
Reviewing the seven wars in which Israel had triumphed and noting the peace agreements that Israel had reached with Egypt and Jordan, Peres conceded that while the peace is not perfect, “we prefer an imperfect peace to a perfect war.”
Israel has to conclude the first chapter of peace by concluding an agreement with the Palestinians, before it can hope for peace all over the Middle East, he said, adding that Israel wants to use the potential of peace and of a modern economy and science to help not only its own people, but also the Palestinians.
Peres noted that despite having limited territory, Israel had built up a flourishing economy which answers the needs of the Israeli population, and also enables Israel to help others. “We did not gain land, but we gained knowledge,” he said.
Peres also related to Israel’s sometimes rocky relationship with Sri Lanka, which he said, had its ups and downs, and commented that it was better to forget the downs and remember the ups.
Responding to president’s remarks, Rajapaska said that his country supports peace for all people. Sri Lanka had suffered thirty years of war with terrorists and had enjoyed peace only in the last four years, he said.
In that brief period, it has succeeded in eradicating terrorism and developing economically. It released 14,000 former combatants from prison, some who had been child soldiers, and sent them back to society, he said.
Moreover, 300,000 displaced people had been resettled, minefields had been neutralized, railway lines, roads, hospitals and schools had been built, electricity had been installed and the people in the new areas had been given water. The cost factor had been US$400 billion. In addition people from the army had been recruited for the police force.
Mahinda Rajapaska’s visit to Israel is characterized as official rather than state. For this reason there were no Sri Lankan flags in the streets on the route leading from his hotel to the President’s Residence; there was no honor guard and no army or police band to play the national anthems of both countries. There was however, the usual police motor cycle escort. There was also the red carpet, with Peres waiting at the edge to greet the smiling Rajapaska as he literally leapt from the car to meet him.
Rajapaska did not always entertain a warm attitude towards Israel according to an article by Upul Joseph Fernando which was published on Wednesday in The Sri Lanka Guardian.
Referring to a period in 1970 in which Sri Lanka had severed its ties with Israel, Fernando quoted Rajapaska as saying in a speech at that time: “The establishment of diplomatic relations with German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Provincial Revolutionary Government of Vietnam, and also abrogation of diplomatic ties with Israel are encouraging signs that the government is committed to a non-aligned foreign policy, which is the aspiration of the people.”
More importantly, Fernando continued, “When the Palestine Friendship Association was established in 1975 Mahinda became its first President. In this capacity, Mahinda worked assiduously to raise awareness about the Palestinian problem among the people of this country and mobilize support and sympathy for their cause”
Even though the government closed the Israeli embassy he wrote, the government was buying weapons from Israel through an Israeli agent, who curiously was selling the same kind of equipment to the LTTE.
Future efforts to reopen the Israel Embassy, he added, were opposed by Rajapaska.
The article also mentions help that Sri Lanka received from Mossad, even during those periods in which diplomatic relations had been cut.
For the time being, Sri Lanka has mended its fences with Israel and the two countries have a very good relationship, particularly on matters of defense.
Rajapaska met on Wednesday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the two agreed to expand bilateral relations, especially in agriculture and water technology.
Unlike most official visitors to Israel, Rajapaska met with Palestinian Authority leaders before calling on Netanyahu and Peres.
There are some 7,000 Sri Lankans working in Israel, primarily as caregivers.
In a few short weeks, when thousands of Syrian refugees receive cartons packed with warm blankets, clothes and sleeping bags, they might well be surprised to learn that the winter gear was collected by dozens of Israeli students and IDF employees at an army base in northern Israel.
Like neighboring northern Israel, Syria can experience bitterly cold winters, with temperatures falling to as low as -3 degrees Celsius. For refugees who are living in makeshift accomodations or even sleeping in the rough, keeping warm can be a challenge.
Shimshon Camp, one of the IDF’s largest Ordnance Corps bases, is also the home of the Aman-Shimshon school, attended by 125 students from grades nine to 12, and the drive is their initiative. “Our students include Druze, Bedouin, both Christian and Muslim Arabs, Circassians and Jews,” says school principal Nitzan Amit proudly.
Two weeks ago, one of the school’s teachers, Hana Perlmutter, came across an interesting project.
“I discovered project Human Warmth, which collects warm gear for Syrian refugees,” she says. “As a daughter of Holocaust survivors I knew we had to help out.”
Perlmutter contacted Nur Suwad, the deputy head of the student council, and he immediately got involved. “I put the project at the top of my agenda,” he says. “We all pitched in.”
The students began to fill up a large space near the principal’s office with donations, and have collected 100 kg worth of gear. And this weekend they are planning to use a truck to transfer the equipment to the Syrian refugees across the border. Amit even intends to ask the hundreds of soldiers at the IDF base to donate unused equipment.
“They asked us to remove all Hebrew lettering,” says organizer Etti Cohen. “So we’re going to write greetings in Arabic and put them in the pockets of the clothing, so that the Syrian refugees get a little bit of support.”
The first customer to sign up to buy gas from Israel’s giant Leviathan field is the Palestine Power Generation Company, which is developing an electric power plant near Jenin.
The three Israeli partners in Leviathan – Avner, Delek Drilling and Ratio — told the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on Sunday that PPGC had agreed to buy $1.2 billion worth of gas over a 20-year period that will begin when the field begins producing.
The 4.75 billion cubic meters of gas the Palestinian utility is buying is relatively small compared to the contracts a host of Israeli gas consumers have signed for gas from the Tamar field. Nevertheless, it marks the first-ever contract for Leviathan gas.
“I believe a strong and stable economy shared by the two sides will bring peace and stability to the entire region, so that everyone will enjoy prosperity and economic growth,” said Yitzhak Tshuva, whose Delek Group controls two of the Leviathan partners.
Leviathan has an estimated 538 billion cubic meters of reserves and it may have petroleum as well. PPGC has the right under the contract to reduce the amount of gas it buys.
The news of the contract came out of the end of the trading day on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, so that the impact of the sale wasn’t reflected in the partners’ share prices. Ratio rose 3%, Avner , 0.8% and Delek Drilling by 0.3%. Delek Group, which controls the latter two companies, climbed 1% by close.
The biggest of the Leviathan partners, Noble Energy, is based in Texas and trades on Wall Street.
PPGC is constructing a $300 million, 200-megawatt power plant that will take 30 months to complete. It is controlled by the Palestine Electric Company but counts other shareholders as well.
The Palestinian Authority accounts for 8% of all electricity consumption in Israel and the West Bank, with annual consumption growing at about 6%.
The agreement include several conditions, among them final approval to develop the Leviathan field by the sellers as well as all the regulatory approvals to export gas as well as financing. The buyers also conditioned their side of the deal on completing the construction of the power plant.
Under the gas-export policy established by the Israeli government, gas sold to the PA and to Jordan will be considered part of Leviathan’s export quota. All told, 40% of Israel’s natural gas can be exported under the rules approved by the cabinet last year.
Last week, the Leviathan partners reported progress in talks with the Australian energy company Woodside, which agreed in principle over a year ago to take a 30% stake in the field for $1.25 billion. Reports says that the two sides have agreed that Woodside will pay several-hundred million dollars more than the original agreement called for as prospects are growing that the gas will be exported by pipeline to regional customers, mainly Turkey, instead of as liquefied natural gas to East Asia.
Isaac Schapira, a prominent member of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, will be appointed as an officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II, for his work in “strengthening the ties between the UK and the haredi community,” the British Embassy announced on Tuesday.
Schapira, the son of the late United Torah Judaism leader Rabbi Abraham Yosef Schapira, said that he is “deeply honored” to receive the award and that he sees it as a “mark of great respect” for the haredi community.
The British government has shown “ warmth and [a] supportive attitude” toward the haredim, he said.
British Ambassador Mathew Gould said that Schapira’s work has “helped us build a friendship and understanding between Britain and the haredi community.
Isaac has devoted huge time over many years to helping me and my predecessors get to know this vital and important part of Israeli society.”
Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Google Israel CEO Meir Brand signed the framework agreement, according to a statement.
The Finance Ministry said, “The MOU was formulated as part of recognition of the importance of technology to access government information and services, to reduce the bureaucratic burden, to improve government services to citizens and businesses, and for economic growth.”
Initiatives to come from the collaboration are set to include “Meet the Government” encounters, a platform for Israeli start-up companies to better understand government policies and work plans, a scholarship program cooperation at Ben Gurion University for engineering, computer studies and public policy students to present innovative ideas and technologies for the public sector, and new data banks that can assist Google.
In 2013, Google acquired Waze, an Israeli navigation app and traffic report start-up, for $1.3 billion. Part of the profits from the Waze sale were donated to Israeli charities.
In December, Google also launched an Israeli start-up incubator, called Campus Tel Aviv, “a hub for entrepreneurs and developers located in the heart of the start-up nation” which will serve as “a space for developers and entrepreneurs to attend and organize events with speakers, mentors and other entrepreneurs.”
“The ongoing investment in Israel is proof of the extraordinary talent we have here, and we are committed to continue strengthening the Internet’s contribution to the Israeli economy and public,” Google Israel’s Brand said at its inauguration.