Chilean president visits Western Wall, offers prayer for peace

The billionaire center-right leader has moved his country closer to Israel in recent years, but also angered Jerusalem by recognizing Palestinian statehood

Chile's President Sebastian Piñera, center in blue shirt, visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem on June 24, 2019, with his wife and a delegation as part of a state visit to Israel. (Courtesy Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
Chile's President Sebastian Piñera, center in blue shirt, visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem on June 24, 2019, with his wife and a delegation as part of a state visit to Israel. (Courtesy Western Wall Heritage Foundation)

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Tuesday as part of a state visit to the country, offering a prayer for peace in the Jewish state.

The billionaire businessman and Harvard-educated economist was accompanied by wife Cecilia Morel and a delegation of Chilean officials.

During his visit to the holy site, the Chilean president said he brought written prayers given to him by students at the Anne Frank school in Santiago, to be placed in the stones of the Western Wall.

He had a staffer record him placing the notes between the stones.

סבסטיאן פיניירה נשיא צ'ילה בביקור בכותל המערבי

הבוקר (ג' 25.6.19), הגיע סבסטיאן פיניירה נשיא צ'ילה יחד עם רעייתו ומשלחת גדולה לביקור בכותל המערבי במסגרת ביקורו בישראל.במעמד מרגש מאוד הטמין מר פיניירה פתקי תפילות שהועברו אליו מתלמידי בית הספר ע"ש אנה פרנק, חתם בספר האורחים והתפלל לשלום בארץ הקודש.

Posted by ‎הקרן למורשת הכותל המערבי‎ on Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A statement by Western Wall officials said Pinera then signed the site’s guestbook with a prayer for peace.

The visit by the center-right leader came after Pinera and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Brazil during the inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in early January.

Such visits by foreign dignitaries to Jerusalem’s holy sites, including the Western Wall, the holiest place in Judaism at which Jews are permitted to pray freely, are adamantly opposed by Palestinians, who say they legitimize Israeli claims to the eastern half of the city, which they claim for the capital of a future Palestinian state.

A recent spate of such visits, including by senior US officials, has been held up in Israel as a sign of growing international recognition of Israel’s position.

Pinera is on a three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority that began Tuesday with a visit to Yad Vashem and will conclude Thursday after morning meetings with PA officials.

He is also slated to visit companies in the agritech and healthcare industries, and will meet President Reuven Rivlin for a formal welcome reception on Wednesday afternoon.

He is scheduled to hold a working meeting with Netanyahu later Wednesday, followed by dinner at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

Pinera, who previously led the South American nation from 2010 to 2014, won reelection in December 2017.

Pinera’s previous term saw steps to strengthen ties with Israel, as well as the adoption of a number of pro-Palestinian positions, including recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) holds a joint press conference with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 6, 2011. (Flash90)

In 2011, Pinera visited Israel in the first such visit of a Chilean premier in order to sign a free trade agreement with the Jewish state.

Months later, however, angering Israeli officials, Pinera led the Chilean government in adopting a resolution “recognizing the existence of the State of Palestine as a free, independent and sovereign state.”

Speaking after the resolution was passed, Pinera said that warm ties with Israel and recognition of Palestinian statehood were not a contradiction.

“In this way we contribute to that end that may exist in the Middle East, a Palestinian state and a State of Israel that can live in peace and prosperity and recognized frontiers with secure borders,” he said.

Chile is home to some 15,000 Jews and what is thought to be the world’s largest Palestinian community outside the Arab world, with more than 300,000 members.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed