JERUSALEM – Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic began a two-day visit to Israel on Monday by meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres, with whom he talked about the historically good ties between the Serbian and Jewish people and possibilities for expanding economic and scientific cooperation.

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In Jerusalem, Nikolic spoke in favor of strengthening economic cooperation between Serbia and Israel, and thanked the country for its principled support to Serbia’s stance on the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo-Metohija, expressing hope that this position will be maintained.

Nikolic said his visit to Israel is an expression of Serbia’s and his personal gratitude for Israel’s consistent and principled position, and invited Peres to visit Serbia.

Peres said he is particularly glad that the EU is seriously considering Serbia as a new member state because of the progress achieved in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, and underscored that all conflicts should be resolved in this way.

You in the Balkans are going through the phase of EU integration, which is now undergoing a revival. I am very happy that the EU is now seriously considering the possibility of accepting Serbia as a new member state. I am also very glad about your dialogue with Kosovo. All conflicts should be resolved through dialogue, Peres said.

Peres and Nikolic agreed, during the meeting of the two delegations, that the history of common suffering of the Serb and Jewish people is another reason for close cooperation between Serbia and Israel today.
“History constantly tortured us and brought us together. Our two nations and the Roma suffered terrible pogroms during World War Two,” said the Serbian president.

Nikolic said the Jewish community in Serbia today is small, because many left in search of a better life, but those who left consider both Serbia and Israel their homeland.

Nikolic expressed understanding for the security issues Israel is facing, but said Serbia cannot choose a side in the Middle East.

“Today I am a leader of a Serbia which cannot choose sides in this. We understand your problem completely, but we have also had a huge burden placed on our shoulders. We can hardly carry this burden by ourselves, because we have been surrounded by rockets, which struck our people and our country and we can never be sure it will not happen again,” said Nikolic.

When it comes to Kosovo, whose unilaterally declared independence Israel does not recognize, Nikolic said a large Serb community still lives there and Belgrade is insisting on their security and opportunities for development.

President Peres said Israel has learned a few things from the former Yugoslavia and Serbia. The first thing is Zionism, which emerged there, but also the fact that a country such as the former Yugoslavia in fact dissolves through internal discord.

I remember very well a discussion with a Yugoslav foreign minister, who told us there is no country like Yugoslavia, to which I responded: wait, we will see, said Peres.

We learnt from Yugoslavia that it is better to create several states in which people will be able to live in peace and cooperate than to keep them artificially in a single multiethnic and multiconfessional country. The thing that breaks up a country is internal discord, said Peres.

The two presidents also discussed issues related to economic cooperation, especially opportunities for technical cooperation in the agriculture sector, as Israel is among the countries with the most advanced irrigation systems.

Peres assured Nikolic that he will always be received as a friend in Israel, among people who want friendship with the Serbian people.

We want to add new content to that friendship, especially cooperation in the domains of science, technology and agriculture, Peres said.

He added that he is particularly pleased that Minister of Agriculture Goran Knezevic is a member of the Serbian delegation, underlining that for Israel, agriculture is an important area of science.

On Monday, Nikolic also toured the Museum of Israel and laid a wreath at the Yad Vashem memorial center to the victims of the Holocaust.

During his visit, Nikolic will also confer with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Parliament Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Israeli Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party Yair Shamir and Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem.

The Serbian president will also tour the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel, the Church of the Nativity and the Great Lavra of St. Sabbas the Sanctified. After visiting Israel, the Serbian president will proceed to Palestine, where he will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.