Bula Vinaka.

Today we welcome His Excellency Reuven Rivlin, the President of the State of Israel, for the first visit of an Israeli President to Fiji in over three decades.

The last visit of a President of Israel to Fiji was in 1986, a year before Fiji was thrown into nearly two decades of communal turmoil and political instability.  In Fiji’s present era of genuine democracy and blossoming friendships with the world, it seems we’ve come full circle with your visit this week.

Strong bonds between nations often trace back to affinities shared among leaders, and I believe His Excellency and I are well on our way to a new friendship, as well as new horizons for the Fiji-Israel partnership.

I’d like to also welcome the Pacific Leaders and representatives for joining us in Nadi for this afternoon’s historic Pacific Island Leaders’ Summit – our latest opportunity to show the power of a united Pacific in lifting our collective standing in the world.

President Rivlin has travelled from a different continent and a different hemisphere to be with us today. For 40 years, thousands of Fijian peacekeepers have made that same journey, departing our shores to defend two of Israel’s flanks in the Golan Heights and Lebanon. Their relentless pursuit of peace has demanded bravery, resilience, and a great many sacrifices from our peacekeeping forces. As I speak, our troops continue to serve the cause of peace in the Golan Heights.

For the sake all throughout the Holy Land suffering the consequences of conflict and the yoke of persecution, Fijians will continue to pray that lasting peace is secured across the region.

In learning of President Rivlin’s service to Israel, I see him as a man of principled leadership and great political courage. We also both know the challenges and opportunities that come with leading a small state. And while Israel may not be an island, with nearly 200 kilometers of Mediterranean coastline, the Israeli people share the profound relationship with the sea that we know in the Pacific.

Despite our small size, Fiji and Israel have no qualms about using our voices in big ways to drive global conversations.

Increasingly, we’re uniting our voices on issues we know are critical to our future; climate change, sustainable development, smart agriculture, women and youth empowerment, health, education and other issues that demand our co-operation and commitments from the wider world.

Fiji and Israel have young, dynamic populations. Our youth know the value of innovative, entrepreneurial thinking and they see the potential of partnerships to generate prosperity. Today, my discussions with President Rivlin centered around empowering these future leaders to strengthen the ties that connect our societies and build a partnership that serves our people for generations.

Fijian students regularly participate in work-study programmes in Israel. We’re hopeful to see that number grow and open new flows of academic exchange.

As I mentioned during our meeting, Mr President, any sustainably-minded Israeli students are welcome to study in Fiji and place themselves on the frontlines of our world-leading pursuit of oceans protection, climate action and cultural preservation. And we have many talented young Fijians who I know would be keen to study in your country, learn from your advancements in industries like dairy and agriculture, and seek entrepreneurial inspiration in Israel, the “Start-up Nation”. Mr President, you are also standing in the Pacific’s hub of development, trade and innovation – and the opportunities for Israeli businesses, including your start-up companies, are ripe for the taking.

While our people seize these new opportunities today, His Excellency and I also discussed how we – as Leaders – can act in the service of their future. The international calendar for 2020 ranks this year as one of the most consequential ever for the climate, for nature, and for human well-being.

The momentum we create and the decisions we make in the coming months will ripple throughout the rest of the century and beyond.

Fiji and our partners in the Pacific believe every nation can and must act as better stewards of the world God has entrusted us with protecting, and we’re counting on Israel to add its voice to that campaign. Together, let’s put the values of sustainability, inclusiveness and equality into practice, and build new bridges of co-operation which span the vast geography of landmass and oceans separating our nations. Not only for our sake, but for humanity’s sake and for the sake of the planet we share.

The Fijian people extend my welcome to His Excellency on his first visit to Fiji. It serves us all to see Fiji and Israel share more frequent and meaningful interaction at the highest levels of our Governments.

But, more importantly, we want more of our people to know each other, to share experiences, to explore opportunities and to build this bilateral partnership from the grass-roots up.

With those high aspirations top of mind, I look forward to our Summit this afternoon. I wish His Excellency well in his travels and I pray that – guided by the courage of his convictions – he continues to lead by word and action to ensure security and equality for all people in Israel, his region and around the world.

Thank you, Shalom.

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