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Spanish King, in First Visit to Israel, Praises Country’s Peace Breakthrough

In what was perhaps the highlight of his three-day visit to Israel, King Juan Carlos of Spain addressed the Knesset this week, making what observers here described as an outspoken political speech.

In his Knesset speech Tuesday, Juan Carlos, who is on his first trip to Israel, congratulated the country on its breakthrough toward peace with the Palestinians.

He recalled that the “first step” had been taken in his own-capital in November 1991.

The framework for negotiations established during the Madrid conference has served as the basis of the peace talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors ever since.

Juan Carlos addressed a special session of the Knesset as his queen, Sofia, watched from the distinguished visitors gallery.

The king arrived here Monday to sign joint Israeli-Spanish economic agreements and ease strains that have marred relations in the past.

Spain, which had strong ties with Arab countries, established diplomatic relations with Israel in January 1986, under considerable secrecy.

When former Israeli President Chaim Herzog visited Spain last year, the king expressed interest in visiting Israel.

During his Knesset speech, Juan Carlos stated his country’s support for Palestinian self-determination and for the right of all states to live in secure and recognized boundaries.

He urged the parties of the Middle East to press ahead with their peace negotiations, promising Spain’s and Europe’s earnest support.

Juan Carlos also mentioned the need for establishing confidence-building measures to ensure the success of the negotiations.

A FINAL ACT OF RECONCILIATION

The king dwelt at length on Jewish history’s “Golden Age of Spain,” mentioning Maimonides, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi and other luminaries who had enriched both Jewish and Spanish culture.

He dwelt less on the darker episodes of Spain’s history, particularly the 1492 expulsion of the Jews and the Spanish Inquisition.

But it was clear from what he did say, and from the public interest in both countries surrounding his first visit to Israel, that the king and queen’s presence here is widely seen as a final act of Spanish reconciliation with Jewry and Judaism.

His visit occurred just a year after both Israel and Spain, in their own ways, marked the 500th anniversary of the expulsion.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in his address to the Knesset, also praised Spain’s role in hosting the Madrid conference.

Rabin said he wanted to see Spain serve as “a bridge” between Israel and the Arabs.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud party, said, “While then the king of Spain issued the command of expulsion, now his successor comes with a command of reconciliation.”

Earlier, Juan Carlos, his foreign minister and other aides met with Palestinian leaders at the Spanish Consulate in eastern Jerusalem.

The Palestinians were scheduled to hold further talks Wednesday with Foreign Minister Javier Solana Madariaga on Spain’s economic aid plans for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Solana told reporters that his country’s pledge of $10 million a year over the next five years was over and above the major aid and investment package that Spain had put together in cooperation with the European Community.

For the local media, the royal visit prompted some adjustments. Israeli reporters, accustomed to extreme informality, were urged by government press aides to wear jackets and ties.

Unschooled in royal protocol, they were informed that jabbing microphones under the noses of royalty is not considered appropriate and that their majesties were not to be photographed while they were partaking of food or drink.

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