By Jaylan Boyle, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva’s visit to Israel and Palestine concluded last Wednesday in Ramallah, as he expressed his wish that an independent Palestinian state become a reality as soon as possible during a final address to the media.
President Lula’s visit, the first by a Brazilian head of state to the region, has not been without controversy, and once again he has not shied away from voicing his opinions on the subjects that polarize. Israeli press reported that foreign ministry officials in Jerusalem were ‘fuming’ over a perceived snub from President Lula in laying flowers at the grave of Palestinian Liberation Organization leader, Yasser Arafat.
“This is an insult… It is offensive that he laid a wreath at the grave of a terrorist, but not at the tomb of Zionism’s visionary” said one key official.
The reference to President Lula’s refusal to accompany Israeli notaries to the tomb of Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian journalist of the late 19th century considered the father of modern political Zionism, drew a calm response from Brazilian foreign ministry officials who said that a visit to Herzl’s grave was not accepted protocol for a foreign leaders visit.
President Lula reportedly told the collected throng at Arafat’s grave, who were waving Brazilian flags, that he has participated in Palestinian independence rallies in the past. Many have pointed to this and other comments made by the President as firm evidence of his political leanings on the matter.
At a conference in Ramallah, the Brazilian President also openly criticized Israel’s so called ‘security barrier’, the massive concrete fence that limits the movement of Palestinians in Israel, charging that this, among other measures including Jewish settlements in the West Bank, were “extinguishing the candle of hope”.
“I dream of a free and independent state in Palestine living in peace in the middle east”, said Lula at his last press conference in the region, jointly hosted by the head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas. “I believe in the power of human beings, I believe that there is a positive climate, I believe in peace and that it will come to the region.”
Some commentators have wondered whether President Lula’s openly pro-Palestinian rhetoric may not have irrevocably damaged his effort to take over the top United Nations job from Ban Ki Moon, an ambition that has been much speculated upon recently. Lula has reportedly been approached by several high ranking political figures, including French President Nicholas Sarkozy, about the possibility of taking on the role.
Brazilian officials have refused to rule out the possibility, however, President Lula, a man renowned for his efforts to remain allied to all sides of a diplomatic controversy, has taken positions in the recent past that have offended such heavyweights as the U.S. and Britain, including hosting Iranian President Ahmadinejad last year. Either of these two countries could veto any appointment to the role of UN Secretary General.