While Israel has many friends, none has demonstrated that friendship in the same way as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, President Shimon Peres told the visiting statesman on Tuesday.
Peres spoke while welcoming Harper to his official residence in Jerusalem.
Noting that the Canadian leader’s trip to the region included visits to the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, Peres said Harper’s visit was timely from every point of view, “as a friend of Israel and as a person in search of peace. We are at a time of decision and your presence will help us move forward.”
The president told Harper that he had come at a demanding time when the whole structure of the Middle East was changing.
Peres reviewed the history of the region over the past 500 years when many countries that had long been under Ottoman rule later became provinces of France and Britain.
Then there had been independence under homegrown dictatorships.
More recently there had been a revolt in several Arab countries and the people had succeeded in getting rid of some dictators and in forcing elections for which they were not prepared.
“Everything is failing to pieces,” Peres said, citing Syria as a prime example of the disintegration of nation. “Nobody is safe. Nobody is secure.”
But Syria is not alone in being overwhelmed by political instability, terrorism and poverty. He listed other countries in the region and said that foreign aid did not help, because it only served to create corruption and did not reach the people. “Give knowledge, not money,” he urged.
Armies were being replaced by terrorists, said Peres, who added that he could never understand the purpose of war, which is so costly in terms of human lives, money and territory. As an example of the cost in lives and money, he pointed to America’s involvement in Afghanistan from which it had gained nothing.
Harper said that the only commonality that Canada had with the Middle East was the mother countries of England and France.
Unlike Israel, Canada has much geography but brief history, he said.
However, there is a good mix of culture, ethnic and national backgrounds and religion. “We learned that you achieve more through accommodation than through fighting,” said Harper. “We agree that the future for civilization is the knowledge economy, and there is no better example of that than Israel.”