Greetings by FM Silvan Shalom at Lunch hosted by Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin

Addis Ababa, January 7, 2004

His Excellency Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to open by wishing a Merry Christmas to the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian community. I hope this holiday brings you and your families much joy, happiness and peace.

I would like to extend my gratitude to our host, Foreign Minister Mesfin, to the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and to the Government of Ethiopia for the warm and friendly welcome that myself and my delegation have received.

We appreciate the efforts made by the Minister and his staff to organize tours of historical sites outside of Addis Ababa. The itinerary afforded us the opportunity to experience first-hand the overwhelming beauty of the Ethiopian countryside as well as the hospitality and generosity of spirit of your citizens. We were particularly impressed by the living historical presence that is so tangible in this lovely land.

Israel and Ethiopia indeed share a special bond, reaching back to biblical times. The first Ethiopian to visit Jerusalem was the Queen of Sheba. She embarked on her journey to share wisdom with King Solomon of Israel. This meeting could be cited as the first "diplomatic contact" between our countries. I am glad to say that mutual visits, cooperation and the sharing of knowledge on all fronts have continued.

It is a great pleasure and privilege for me to be here in Ethiopia, marking my first official visit to Africa as Foreign Minister. My visit here today comes in the wake of two visits by Minister Mesfin to Israel during the last six months. We are looking forward to hosting His Excellency Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in Israel in the coming months.

During this visit, I was honored to meet His Excellency Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. I wish him success in the important tasks he faces marching Ethiopia forward into the 21st century.

Israel attaches great importance to the advancement and expansion of bilateral cooperation in a wide range of spheres. I believe that our growing economic partnerships serve as a foundation for cooperation in all other areas. I am proud that my delegation includes more than 20 leaders of the Israeli corporate community who are here to promote business to business activities.

The close ties between our two nations constitute a strategic asset as well. Both Ethiopia and Israel are forced to confront complex challenges, first and foremost, the growing terrorist threat.

Both Israel and Ethiopia share the conviction that in the war against terrorism, there is no room for compromise.

Unfortunately, Israel is faced with a very complicated reality. While the Government and people of Israel remain committed to reaching a lasting peace agreement with our Palestinian neighbors, we are forced to fight against a network of terrorist organizations seeking to destroy chances for peace.

The people of Israel are determined, persistent and patient, and will work tirelessly to deliver peace and security and a better future for all peoples of the region through full implementation of the Road Map. We are ready to renew dialogue with the Palestinian Authority immediately. Yet, progress can only be made when the Palestinian leadership finally takes the strategic decision to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism.

Terrorism is the source of the present impasse, and its eradication is the key to the conflict’s solution.

I would like to take this opportunity to praise Ethiopia’s firm and courageous stand during the recent attempt at the United Nations to contaminate the International Court of Justice by politicizing legal matters. Instead of returning to the negotiating table and entering into direct discussions, the Palestinian Authority is trying to score points through international forums. Ethiopia has shown once again that diplomacy must also adhere to moral values, and not be hijacked by the biased agendas of regional conflicts.

Israelis are well acquainted with Ethiopia and Ethiopian traditions, but this visit gave me and my delegation the opportunity to witness the sources of inspiration for many rich and colorful traditions.

The Ethiopian community in Israel, numbering, 85,000, has joined the vibrant mosaic of traditions created by the gathering of Jewish people from all over the world in their historic homeland.

This variety of traditions is but a small compensation for two thousand years of exile, but we cherish and enjoy the multitude and diversity.

The Ethiopian community inspires us and serves as a living bridge between our two countries. We are proud of the fact that Israeli television and radio broadcast in Amharic and in the Tigrian languages.

This is but one symbol of the very unique bonds that unite us. Today, Ethiopian tradition is as much part of our country as the Jewish tradition that has throughout the centuries influenced this part of the world.

I would like to raise my glass and make a toast to wish Ethiopia peace and prosperity. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance all of our goals and to strengthen and expand our already exceptional relations.

Toda Raba, and AMASEGINALO.