Photo Credit: Haim Zach / GPO
Italian President Sergio Matarella, Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Wednesday in Jerusalem with Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Netanyahu spoke with media prior to the meeting at his office, offering condolences to the families of the earthquake victims and wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded. Israel, he said, has extended its offer to help and reiterated the assistance remains if needed.

The Israeli prime minister spoke of the many inspirations and connections Israel draws from Italy, including its “creative genius” which he said is today being translated into innovation. “I think that if we join together in this miraculous world of information and creativity and innovation, we can do more together than we can do separately,” he said. “This is one of the things that we have been talking about in our respective governments, and will continue to do so… So there is a deep bond. I cannot say that the history of our peoples in antiquity was always marked by amity,” Netanyahu remarked, however, “even though there was a very active Jewish community in ancient Rome. But obviously things took a turn for the worse, and that is commemorated in all its tragedy in the Arch of Titus in Rome… in which you see, of course, the great artifacts of the Jewish Temple carried in a triumphal march in Rome. And you see the Menorah, which is the symbol of the Jewish state, but also was of course the main object in our ancient Temple.

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“I raise this because we’ve just had an absurd decision of UNESCO that said that the Jewish people h ave no connection to the Temple Mount.

“Well, the Arch of Titus was built by Titus’s brother, the Emperor Domitian. He wasn’t a Zionist propagandist. And he obviously was depicting that long, thousands-year connection to the Temple Mount, to Jerusalem and to this country of the Jewish people.

“That absurd resolution obviously shocked us in many ways, but it didn’t leave us speechless. We were gravely disappointed, obviously, on Italy’s vote and I was delighted to hear Prime Minister Renzi’s saying that he too was shocked by the UNESCO vote and Italy’s abstention. And I welcomed his statement, clear, forthright statement that Italy would change its vote in any such future resolutions. I deeply appreciate Prime Minister Renzi’s words.

“UNESCO’s attempts to erase Jewish history is an attempt to say that Jews really don’t have any connection to our land. It’s not only false, blatantly false, it also makes the achievement of peace harder….

“This conflict is not and never was about a Palestinian state, which successive Israeli governments, including this prime minister, is willing to arrange – a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. This conflict was never about the Palestinian state. It was and is about the Jewish state, and unless and until our Palestinian neighbors face this, confront these demons, give up the ghost of trying to destroy the Jewish state by this or that means, peace will be harder to achieve. Denying our history is one of the means of denying the Jewish state. This is the bad news.

“Now, the good news. The good news, the incredible news, one that fills me with great hope, is that there is a dramatic change taking place in the Arab world, and that change is that many of the Arab countries see Israel no longer as their enemy, but as their ally, even their vital ally, in fighting against Islamist terrorism, militant Islam, either led by Iran or led by Da’esh.

“Here are two sentences that summarize everything that I said. I am hopeful as never before. If we said in the past that if we break through with the Palestinians, we’ll have broader peace with the Arab world, I think the odds are that it’s now going to – peace is going to be achieved through a reverse path. Not that the Palestinians will bring peace with the broader Arab world, but a broader rapprochement with the Arab world would bring peace with the Palestinians.

“Israel’s hand is extended to peace for all those who want to make peace with it. We have a belief in the future. We have a belief in technology, in progress as a great way of solidifying peace and advancing it with our neighbors and with our friends like Italy and elsewhere in the world. It’s in this spirit of hope and peace that I welcome you to Jerusalem.”

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