With the ceremonial trappings generally reserved for kings and presidents, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warmly greeted his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper to Jerusalem on Sunday, praising him for his "courage, clarity and convictions."
"You are a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people," Netanyahu said at an unusual welcoming ceremony held at the Prime Minister's office. "I am not just saying that, I mean it deeply from the bottom of my heart, and I am speaking for all of the people of Israel."
One diplomatic official said that the ceremony, which included an honor guard, trumpets blaring, and a long receiving line, was unusual for anyone but heads of state, and was meant to underline Israel's appreciation to Harper and Canada.
Netanyahu made those sentiments clear.
"This world is often cynical and hypocritical, and you have shown great moral leadership when it comes to fighting terrorism," he said. "You know that there cannot be any politically correct double talk, but only unequivocal condemnation and united international actions."
He also praised Harper for his unabashed opposition to anti-Semitism, and for "unflinchingly" standing on the "right side of history" when in comes to Iran's "repeated calls fro Israel's annihilation, and its unrelenting development of nuclear weapons."
He also praised Harper for recognizing that a genuine peace with the Palestinians "must be based on mutual recognition and sound security arrangements." Harper will travel to Bethlehem and then Ramallah on Monday morning, where he will meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel. Netanyahu joked to Harper, is "somewhat smaller" than Canada, "but it has a huge heart, and this heart has endless affection and sympathy and the deepest appreciation to you and Canada."
Harper, along with his wife, Laureen, arrived Sunday for a four-day visit at the head of a massive 250-person delegation that includes six ministers and six parliament members. From the airport Harper drove to the Mount of Olives, where he looked out at Jerusalem and the Temple Mount from the east, an unusual first step for foreign leaders who are often wary a trip to east Jerusalem will antagonize the Palestinians.
Following the welcoming ceremony, during which Harper thanked Netanyahu for his words of greeting and apologized that his two high-school aged children could not join him on the trip because of exams, the Canadian premier and his wife were hosted for a private dinner by Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.
Harper said he had "a few things to say" in response to Netanyahu's greetings, but would keep them for his address Monday at the Knesset.
Harper is scheduled to address the Knesset Monday a 6:00 pm, the first Canadian prime minister ever to do so. This is his first ever visit to Israel, and the first by a sitting Canadian prime minister in 14 years.
In addition to visiting the Palestinian Authority on Monday, Harper will also – after he leaves Israel Wednesday afternoon – travel to Jordan for meetings there as part of what his office is billing as Harper's "first trip to the Middle East."
Harper has been in office since 2006.