It is a “tragedy” that many Palestinians deny any Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday at the start of a meeting with visiting Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.
This marks the first ever visit to Israel by a Serbian prime minister.
“Here, in the State of Israel, the Jewish people have achieved their self-determination in a democratic state that guarantees equal rights for all its peoples, all its citizens, regardless of race, religion or sex,” Netanyahu said, as the debate over the Jewish State Bill seemed to animate part of his welcoming comments to Vucic.
“It is indeed a tragedy that so many of our Palestinian neighbors still repudiate the basic facts of history.
They deny the more than 3,000-year-old connection between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel,” he said.
Netanyahu bewailed what he said was the Palestinian denial of Israel’s right to national self-determination, even as they demand that right for themselves.
“Just last weekend, Palestinian [Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas reiterated that he would never recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish people’s right to a nation-state,” he said.
What was especially “peculiar” about those comments, Netanyahu added, was that Abbas made them on November 29th, the anniversary of the day 67 years earlier when the UN called for the establishment of a Jewish state.
“Peace cannot be based on such hypocrisy,” he said.
“Peace will never be built on distortions of historical truths. Peace demands that the Palestinian leadership finally recognize the nation state of the Jewish people, and peace demands that they cease all incitement against Israel and the Jewish people.”
Netanyahu said the stabbing attack earlier on Monday in Gush Etzion was a result of this type of incitement.
Turning to Israel-Serbian ties, Netanyahu said that Jewish-Serbian ties go back thousands of years to the days of the Roman republic.
And in the modern age, he said, “our people were united in struggle and in suffering.”
Netanyahu said that the Jewish people will never forget the role of the Serbs in the war against the Nazis.
“It is a badge of honor, and one that is deeply felt in our hearts and will always, always be there,” he said.
Netanyahu also pointed to Zionist luminaries who came from Serbia, including Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai and two of Theodor Herzl’s grandparents, who are buried in Belgrade.
Netanyahu said Vucic’s “historic” first visit to Israel reflected the friendship between the Jewish and Serbian peoples, as well as a commitment to closer cooperation between the two states across the board.
Netanyahu added that the current level of bilateral cooperation “does not begin” to reflect the potential that exists between the two states. “Working together,” he said, “we can make both our countries more prosperous and more secure.”
Vucic, during his brief remarks, expressed appreciation to Netanyahu and to Israel for assistance offered during the “terrible floods” his country faced in May.
Vucic noted that Netanyahu phoned him personally during that period, and “we will never forget his dedication, even his devotion, in that very terrible situation that we faced.”
The Serbian website B92 quoted Vucic when he landed in Israel on Sunday as saying that there was a “relatively low” level of trade between Serbia and Israel, something “we want to increase substantially.”
He was also quoted as saying that he viewed the two day visit as politically significant, and that he would “ask Israel for support in the US and other countries where Israel has major importance and influence.”