Although he has worked hard to shed his playboy image since his succession to the monarchy in 2006 and his coronation in August 2008, Tonga's King George Tupou V cut a very dapper figure in his cream suit and shoes on Monday, when he emerged from a Foreign Ministry stretch limousine on the grounds of Beit Hanassi and was welcomed by President Shimon Peres and ADC Brig. Gen. Hasson Hasson.
The king is on a private visit to Israel, but the Foreign Ministry decided to add a little pomp and ceremony to the occasion by having Peres invite the monarch and his entourage to lunch.
Among the Israeli guests there were former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, former deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin, the head of the Foreign Ministry's Pacific desk Michael Ronen, plant breeder and geneticist Dr. Harry S. Paris of the Volcani Institute and Benjamin Glaser, director of Hadassah University Hospital's Endoctrinology and Metabolism Service in the Division of Internal Medicine.
As a result of Western influences, leading to a change in lifestyle, many of Tonga's citizens have developed diabetes. Glaser told reporters that Israel is ready to send medical teams to help control the disease and considerably reduce its prevalence.
Agriculture plays a dominant role in Tonga's economy, with squash pumpkin as one of the major cash crops. Paris was on hand to answer questions about ways in which to improve Tonga's agricultural output.
Comprising some 170 islands, Tonga, with a population of around 100,000, is situated slightly west of the International Date Line. It boasts a constitutional monarchy and is the only Polynesian country that was never colonized, even though it became a British Protectorate in 1900. In 1970 it achieved total independence.
President Chaim Herzog paid a state visit to Tonga in November, 1986, and was given a lavish welcome by King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV. The long-reigning king, at a magnificent outdoor luncheon attended by local islanders as well as many dignitaries, arranged to have kosher fish for Herzog, but the large media entourage that traveled with Herzog on his tour of the South Pacific was given the Tongan culinary specialty of roast pork and pineapple.
King George Tupou V, who is on his second visit to Israel, is rather partial to Middle East staples such as houmus, tehina and falafel, all of which Peres arranged to be included in the menu.
Peres noted that Tonga is generally known as the Friendly Islands, an appellation given to the country well over two centuries ago by British explorer Captain James Cooke in recognition of the warm reception he had been accorded by the islanders.
Observing that the nomenclature is still applicable, Peres told the king: "Our countries are small, but our friendship is great." It was impossible to enlarge the countries he added, but the friendship could continue to grow.
The king wished Israel success and said that Tonga had been watching Israel's progress "with great interest and much affection."