Crown Prince Felipe of Spain with Peres 311.
(photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
In the last week of February, Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia were
among those who greeted President Shimon Peres in Madrid when he visited Spain
in the context of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic
relations between their countries.
On Monday, Peres welcomed their Royal
Highnesses the Prince of Asturias, Felipe de Borbon, and the Princess of
Asturias, Letizia Ortiz, along with Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez,
who was previously in Israel only two months ago, in the cramped quarters of the
small courtyard surrounding the reflecting pool near the entrance to the
presidential compound in Jerusalem.
During the royal couple’s lightning
36-hour visit they managed to get to Beit Hanassi, Yad Vashem, Tel Aviv
University, the Rabin Center, where they viewed an architectural exhibition, the
Tel Aviv Hilton for a reception attended by Spaniards living in Israel and back
to Jerusalem for a tête-àtête with Peres culminating in a state dinner at the
King David Hotel in their honor.
When they arrived at Beit Hanassi in the
morning, they received as much of a red carpet treatment, as space allowed. The
IDF honor guard was confined to four pennantbearing soldiers. There was a
30-member IDF band.
Ela Ben-Ezra, one of a charming group of
Spanish-speaking first-graders who recently made aliya from Spain and who attend
the Shalom School in Jerusalem’s Malha neighborhood, presented the princess with
a bouquet of flowers in the Spanish national colors of red and yellow and was
rewarded with a kiss. The girls in the group were dressed in frilled little
white dresses and the boys in white shirts and dark pants. They greeted
the royals in Spanish, waved Israeli and Spanish flags and sang Heiveinu Shalom
Aleichem. The royal visitors mingled with them, patted them on the head and then
stood behind them with Peres for a photo opportunity. They obviously enjoyed the
catchy tune, and turned to each other with smiling faces, their bodies swaying
slightly to the beat. They wanted to know what the song was, and Maj.
Oded Nahari, head of the IDF’s General Staff Ceremonial Department, explained it
A very large media entourage accompanied the royals from Spain
There really wasn’t enough room for all the photographers,
especially as there were Israeli photographers as well, and one Spanish stills
photographer stood precariously on a narrow stone ledge just above the
pool. Another photographer, from the Spanish television stations, stood
directly behind him on the same ledge balancing a video camera on a
Contrary to usual practice, there were no speeches by either the
host or his guest. According to a Beit Hanassi representative, Spanish
protocol dictates that the remarks of the royals are not reported without prior
The Spanish journalists were apparently aware of this. The
Israelis were not, and left in frustration.
Peres escorted the prince and
princess to his private office, because the reception hall in which he would
have ordinarily received them is still under renovation. Red and yellow
flowers graced the table and the red and yellow Spanish flag stood in the
background alongside a flag of Israel as the president and his guests settled
down for a working meeting. A statement subsequently released by Beit Hanassi
quoted Peres as having told Felipe that he hoped that this historic visit would
serve to strengthen the ties between their countries in the domains of
economics, science, technology, education and culture. Peres expressed
appreciation for the wonderful hospitality he had received from the prince’s
parents, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, while in Spain, and for the warmth of
the welcome that he had received in Spain in general. Peres praised the king’s
wisdom and courage in steering Spain towards democracy in the aftermath of the
Franco era and turning it into an open, democratic peaceloving
The prince said Spain was interested in cooperating with Israel
in all the fields mentioned by Peres and noted the important role that Peres had
played when as prime minister he had established diplomatic ties with Spain that
had grown stronger in the course of time. The prince was interested in
hearing Peres’s perspective of how recent events in the region will play
themselves out. Before leaving, the prince signed the visitors’ book and was
told that the table on which it rested had once belonged to British prime
minister Benjamin Disraeli.
Outside in the street, there were no Spanish
flags, although it is customary to fly the national flags of visiting
presidents, prime ministers and high ranking royals. A call to the spokesman’s
office at the Jerusalem Municipality yielded no results, other than a referral
to the office the municipality’s director-general Yossi Heiman.
the person who answered the phone said it wasn’t the responsibility of that
office but of the spokesman’s office. Told that we’d been there and done that,
the person on the other of the line transferred the call to someone by the name
of Dudi Amsalem who is responsible for flags. There was no one in that office to
take the call. It’s possible that instructions about the flags were lost in
transit or that someone made a mistake or because Spain has a king, the flags
were not flown for a prince, or perhaps because one of Felipe’s future titles
will be King of Jerusalem, the municipality decided to demonstrate that it was
not part of his realm.
Before leaving Israel on Tuesday, the royals will
attend a breakfast hosted by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu after which they
will be given a tour of the Israel Museum by Chief Curator Yigal
Zalmona. At lunchtime they will meet with dignitaries of the Palestinian
National Authority in Ramallah.