Dinner Remarks in Honour of the Official Visit of the President of the State of Israel, His Excellency Reuven Rivlin
February 20, 2020 Pullman Nadi Bay Resort, Nadi
Your Excellency the President of the State of Israel;
The Honourable Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji;
The Honourable Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea;
The Honourable Deputy Prime Ministers of Tonga and Tuvalu;
Honourable Ministers and Pacific Island Leaders;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula vinaka, Shalom, and a very good evening to you all.
Your Excellency, on behalf of the Fijian Government and all Fijians, it is a great honour and pleasure to welcome you to Fiji.
I am glad to finally have gained the opportunity to meet you in person ––after many trips to Israel through my days as a peacekeeper and in my current role as Commander in Chief, who would have imagined that our first meeting would take place on Fijian soil? Those in the room might not know, but this day is a long time coming.
Towards the end of 2016, I was flying from Baghdad to Tel Aviv to visit our peacekeepers on the ground in the Middle East, and had planned to meet President Rivlin immediately upon my arrival.
Unfortunately, my plane was delayed in Jordan, and –– running late –– we had to settle on a phone call instead.
But despite having a long and friendly relationship, nothing can replace the power of personal, face-to-face connections, so I –– and all the Pacific leaders in this room tonight –– truly value your visit. Thank you most sincerely for gracing our shores with your very brief and short visit.
That connection –– and that personal, face-to-face interaction –– is exactly what has bound the Fijian and Israeli people over the course of the years.
Thanks to the brave efforts of our UN Peacekeepers, many thousands of Fijians have come and gone through Israel, with both myself and our Honourable Speaker of Parliament serving in the very first deployment to the Middle East in June of 1978.
Since then, the bond between our two nations has strengthened with every passing smile as Fijians pass through the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
It has strengthened with every hymn sung by our Peacekeepers as they prepare for deployment in Tel Aviv.
It has strengthened with the caring hand of every Israeli doctor and nurse who have treated our wounded soldiers returning from the front lines.
And it has strengthened with every young Fijian student who has learned invaluable lessons on trade and technology in Israeli institutions.
It is clear that one thing has remained constant through the decades: The warm embrace of hospitality that countless Fijians have experienced at the hands of our friends in Israel.
That is why it gives me such great pleasure to return the favour this evening as we host Your Excellency, President Rivlin in Nadi.
So, as we mark the many ways the Fiji-Israel relationship has strengthened over the years, Your Excellency, I am confident in saying that our ties have been made even stronger with your visit this week.
Ladies and gentlemen, as we gather today in celebration of President Rivlin and the renewed ties between Israel and the Pacific, I welcome you all tonight, and thank the Heads of Government and representatives in the room for your presence at today’s historic Pacific Island Leaders’ Summit –– particularly those who have travelled from great distances throughout the Pacific to be with us today.
Ladies and gentlemen, the partnership that we have forged with Israel over the years is a glowing testament to how two countries at opposite ends of the Earth –– while seeming so different on the surface –– can find shared purpose and pursue common goals.
Your Excellency, nearly 34 years ago, in 1986, we saw the first visit of an Israeli President to Fiji when your predecessor –– President Chaim Herzog –– paid a visit to our shores.
At the time, I was a much younger man, serving as a Peacekeeper in Lebanon. The world was a different place then.
Both Fiji and Israel have grown –– both in the development of our economies and in our place on the global stage.
The threats we face have evolved, and the geopolitical, economic, and climatic landscapes we must navigate today pose new challenges that no nation can tackle alone.
So on that note, my friends, I would like to end tonight by wishing both our beloved Nations and Peoples continued Peace and Prosperity, and a new era of strengthened relations between Israel and the Pacific.
Almighty God has been kind to all of us –– and may those blessings continue as we work together in the years, and generations, ahead.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you. Todah Rabah!