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Spanish prime minister visits Israel

MADRID (JTA) — Spain’s prime minister visited Israel and the West Bank and received a medal from the Palestinian Authority president.

Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero arrived Oct. 15 in Tel Aviv for his one-day visit, which is part of a larger tour that includes Syria. Spain is interested in expanding its role to help restart peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Zapatero told Israel’s daily Ma’ariv that Spain wants to open a new page in bilateral relations.

“Spain is a friend of Israel,” the socialist leader said. “When we criticize one another, we do so as friends.”

Accompanied by Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos, the trip to Israel included meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the Kadima Party.

Zapatero also visited the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas presented him a medal of honor from for the Spanish government’s support for the “liberty and independence of the Palestinian people.”

Asked about his position on the Goldstone report on the Gaza war, which blamed Israel and Hamas for war crimes and which Israel has discounted as inherently biased, Zapatero said, “The response to the report should be intelligent, rational and in no way should be an obstacle to the peace process. I know that it is a very sensitive subject in Israel and we should act with caution.”

Zapatero also denied a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League expressing concern over an “alarming rise” in anti-Semitism in Spain. A survey had shown 75 percent of Spanish respondents believed Jews have “too much power” in international financial markets.

“There is no anti-Semitism in Spain in any of its expressions,” Zapatero said. “Not every commentary, publication or photograph should be considered anti-Semitic. The best proof is that today there are no anti-Semitic acts in Spain.”

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