JERUSALEM (Nov. 8)
In a development hailed as a “breakthrough” by top diplomatic officials here, King Juan Carlos of Spain is making his first visit to Israel this week.
The trip heralds a warming in relations between the two countries.
Israeli and Spanish officials are expected to sign six agreements for economic cooperation during the king’s three-day stay in Israel.
But his arrival in Israel is also viewed as having considerable symbolic importance attached to it.
The state visit, the first ever by a ruling European monarch, is expected to ease the strains that have marred relations between the two countries in the past.
The visit is also expected to strengthen ties between Israel and countries influenced by Spain, such as those of Latin America.
The king, accompanied by his wife, Queen Sofia, and by an entourage of ministers and dozens of business leaders, was welcomed here Monday with an elaborate official state ceremony.
Senior Foreign Ministry officials said the visit would elevate Israel’s relations with Spain to the level of those with Britain and France.
Until 1986, when Israel and Spain established diplomatic ties, Spain was largely cool and distant toward Israel while maintaining close relations with the Arabs.
Spain hosted the October 1991 Madrid conference on the Middle East peace process. The framework for negotiations established there has served ever since as the basis for the peace talks involving Israel, the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors.
TRADE HAS GROWN DRAMATICALLY
The royal visit follows an invitation to the king by former President Chaim Herzog, who visited Spain last year.
At that time, Juan Carlos called for reconciliation between the two countries during a ceremony in a Madrid synagogue commemorating the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
During the past 10 years, Israeli-Spanish trade has grown from about $30 million to $440 million.
The agreements due to be signed this week are expected to give a further economic boost to both countries.
Danny Gillerman, president of Israel’s Chamber of Commerce, said the dozens of Spanish business leaders who accompanied the king were an important and hopeful sign.
“Spain is a member of the E.C. (European Community), a leader in the Mediterranean region,” he told Israel Radio, “and I believe that in today’s world, in the context of the peace process, it could play a major role in the development of the region.”
As a sign of the weightiness accorded the visit, Juan Carlos was scheduled to address the Knesset on Tuesday.
He was also expected to meet with Israeli leaders as well as with a Palestinian delegation.
His schedule also includes a tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and of Christian holy sites, and he is expected to receive an honorary degree from Hebrew University.