Ambassador’s Message, 24 February 2015
In the life of an Embassy a visit by a member of the Government is an important event, second only to a state visit by the President. Visits by members of the Government are critical to maintaining bilateral relations. They signal that the relationship matters and they provide direction and energy into the portfolio for which the Minister is responsible. There is an added significance when it comes to visits of the Minister for Foreign Affairs given his or her preeminent role in diplomatic relations.
We at the Embassy were delighted then to host the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan T.D., on his first official visit to Israel last week. He and his delegation of officials from Headquarters had just come from Lebanon where the Minister had visited our troops serving with UNIFIL in south Lebanon. In Israel, he had a substantive exchange of views with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, toured Yad Vashem and laid a wreath in the Memorial Hall there, visited Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva (employing over 400 in Ireland), discussed current issues with Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog and met with key contacts of the Embassy at a reception at the Residence.
The Minister’s programme also included a visit to the OPT organized by our colleagues in the Representative Office Ramallah. The Minister met with President Abbas and Prime Minister Hamdallah, laid a wreath at the tomb of Yasser Arafat, and toured Bethlehem and other sites in the West Bank.
The Minister and party visited Gaza to see conditions there and meet with officials of UNRWA and UN OCHA who are providing vital services and humanitarian relief. It was certainly sobering for the delegation to see how little progress had been made in reconstruction. The Minister’s main impression was the hopelessness of the people, something that needs to be addressed he felt by political dialogue within Gaza and by unblocking the flow of goods into and out of Gaza so the economy can start to grow. The party also visited a Moshav outside Gaza to hear views and stories from its perspective of life lived with the threat of rockets and tunnels.
The Jordanian part of the visit regrettably had to be cancelled because of the snowstorm and related travel difficulties so the Minister did not have the chance to meet contacts there and visit Syrian refugee camps. Departing instead from Ben Gurion we ran into Quartet Representative Tony Blair which allowed for the Minister and Mr. Blair to exchange notes on the crisis in Gaza and on the prospects for the MEPP.
These were the highlights of a visit that was workman-like, balanced and focused on key issues. Along the way were a range of meetings and encounters with officials and others who gave insights and analyses into the situation here that are critical to fully understanding the complex dynamics and powerful forces at work. As the programme rolled along, it was also really productive to spend time with the new Secretary General at the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Niall Burgess, and colleagues from Headquarters working on the Middle East, examining ways in which we can best use our resources in this area.
A personal highlight for Mary and me was the reception for the Minister at the Residence in Tel Aviv where he had the chance to meet our contacts from business, culture, peace building and from the Irish community. A special thanks to Mary and David Lee from the Embassy for all their hard work on the visit: I would also like to pay tribute to the officials from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs whose professionalism and courtesy made everything run smoothly, especially when dealing with the usual feature of every visit – the unexpected!
The Minister’s interview with the Irish Times on his visit is here http://t.co/7AHil1CcSm
You can find some photos and links from the Minister’s visit on the Embassy’s website at www.embassyofireland.co.il