Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Sunday night that he will be making his first-ever visit to Israel on January 19. Harper, who is considered the most outspoken world leader regarding public support of Israel and of the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will be staying in the region for four days, during which he will also visit the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.
Harper announced his intention of visiting Israel on his Twitter account and in a speech he delivered at a Jewish National Fund fundraising event. “I look forward to visiting the Middle East early next year to explore ways of strengthening peace and security, stimulating sustainable economic growth, and promoting essential Canadian values, such as tolerance and human rights, across the region,” he said. He noted that Canada will continue to support Israel in the United Nations and in every other international forum.
The head of the pro-Israel lobby in Canada, David Koschitzky, welcomed Harper’s announcement. He said that relations between the two countries are excellent, but there is always room for improvement – especially when it comes to trade relations.
Netanyahu considers Harper one of the leaders closest to him – both personally and politically. Netanyahu has visited Canada three times in the past five years and he speaks to Harper on the phone very frequently.
Under Harper and his Foreign Minister John Baird, Canada has in recent years adopted a policy of automatic support for Israel and the Netanyahu government. Despite its close relationship with the United States, Canada was the Western country that expressed the greatest skepticism about the deal reached between Iran and the six world powers in Geneva last week.
The only time Harper and Baird sharply criticized Netanyahu and his policy was following the Palestinian bid for observer status in the United Nations in November 2012. In the wake of the Palestinian move, Netanyahu announced that he would promote plans for construction in the sensitive E1 area, between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem. Harper condemned the step and even phoned Netanyahu to tell him so personally.
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