Spanish royals pay lighting visit

Crown Prince Felipe, President Peres seek cooperation in economics, science, technology, education and culture.

Crown Prince Felipe of Spain with Peres 311 (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
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 to them.
A very large media entourage accompanied the royals from Spain to Israel.
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 tripod.
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 agreement.
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 country.
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.
There, 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.