President Shimon Peres bestowed the Presidential Medal of Distinction upon Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at a ceremony in Rome Monday, in a ceremony highlighting the strength of Israel-Italy relations. The award is the highest civilian honor in Israel.
In giving the award, President Peres thanked President Napolitano for his steadfast support for Israel.
"I am proud to confer upon you the Presidential Medal of Distinction in honor of your steadfast commitment to the State of Israel and the Jewish people," Peres stated. "You raised a clear voice in support of Israeli democracy."
The ceremony took place the day after President Peres attended the joint event in the Vatican hosted by Pope Francis along with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, an event Peres also addressed.
"The time has come for peace and we must find an agreed upon solution accepted by both parties," he said. "We still face threats, namely terror from Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. We must overcome terror and improve the situation for all the people of the region."
"Israel stretches out its hand for peace with the Palestinians, our neighbors," he continued. "I have experienced both war and peace and everyone deserves the right to live in peace."
President Napolitano agreed.
"My unflagging relation with the State of Israel and the Jewish people, my determination to fight anti-Semitism and attacks on Israel are an integral part of my anti-fascist commitment," Napolitano said. "I am honored to receive this distinguished award."
Turning to President Peres, he added, "Peace is a part of your legacy and today we must say with conviction, the time has come for peace."
Napolitano received the award for his dedication to the State of Israel, which changed the official Italian policy on the Middle East, according to the explanatory address given before Peres awarded the President with the Medal.
"Over the years, President Napolitano demonstrated his uncompromising commitment to the well-being and security of the State of Israel, and inspired by him, the Italian Communist Party adopted new and independent positions in relation to the Middle East," the note explains. "At the time, President Napolitano clearly and consistently voiced his views on the question of Prisoners of Zion in the former Soviet who requested to emigrate to Israel was denied."
"President Napolitano has condemned every manifestation of terrorism, he has hosted meetings between Israelis and Palestinians in an effort to seek a solution to the Middle East conflict on the basis of mutual recognition," it continues. "The President represents a figure of leadership in the European arena in the fight against Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism."
"President Napolitano's relations with the State of Israel and the Jewish people have been steadfast and characterized by a deep sense of friendship," it concludes. "He has repeatedly expressed his steadfast position regarding Israel's unequivocal right to live in peace and security."