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No Harper Netanyahu G8 talks: spokesman says amid glowing Israeli reports

Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not discuss the G8 summit with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, a Harper spokesman says.

The statement by Dimitri Soudas, Harper's communications director, appears to contradict a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Netanyahu phoned Harper before the summit to ask him to block G8 support for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders.

Soudas said Sunday in an email to The Canadian Press that Harper did speak to "various leaders in the last few days, including the Israeli prime minister as well as the head of the Arab League.''

But he added "there was no G8 discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu.''

"The PM's views are long-standing and well known on the Middle East process towards a two-state solution,'' Soudas said while Harper was visiting Greece after the G8 summit in France.

"Canadian policy on these issues is long-standing. It's important that any statement on the Middle East always have balanced references to the various positions and the G8 statement is a balanced statement.''

In a speech earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama said talks between the Palestinians and Israel should be based on 1967 borders that existed before the Six Day War in which Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

Haaretz said Israel was particularly concerned about the border proposal because at least seven of the eight G8 countries supported including it in the summit declaration.

The G8's final declaration issued Friday did not include any mention of borders in Israel-Palestine peace talks.

The Haaretz report said Netanyahu told Harper that mentioning the border issue would be detrimental to Israeli interests and a reward to the Palestinians.

As the summit concluded, media reports cited diplomats in saying the 1967 border proposal was omitted from the G8 statement because of objections from Canada.

Harper sidestepped questions on the issue at the summit. He told reporters that while he broadly supported Obama's speech, portions of it should not be "cherry-picked'' as the basis for a peace deal.

"President Obama emphasized that in a two-state solution, one of those states has to be a Jewish state ... another is that the Palestinian state must be a demilitarized state,'' Harper said last Thursday.

"So I think these and other messages are important messages to deliver, and I say I think if you look at the statement in its totality, it was very balanced and it is certainly something that Canada can support.''

Haaretz described Harper as the head of a "rightist government under whose leadership Canada has become one of Israel's greatest allies.''

Herb Keinon, diplomatic correspondent at The Jerusalem Post, said reports of Canada's support for Israel at the G8 are likely to raise Harper's profile among the Israeli public.

"When everyone else is coming down hard against us, to see somebody stand up for us is something that will resonate among the public,'' he said.

"I think there is a growing realization that Canada is probably the best friend we have.''

Keinon said the Netanyahu administration knows who its friends are and acknowledges its appreciation for Canada's pro-Israel stance.

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman phoned his Canadian counterpart, John Baird, to thank him for Ottawa's position at the G8, according to both Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post.

"Canada is a true friend of Israel and with a realistic and proper view of things, it understands that the 1967 borders do not conform to Israel's security needs and with the current demographic reality,'' Lieberman told the Israeli media.

Canada's profile among the Israeli public is often overshadowed by the U.S., but reports of Harper's pro-Israel stand could change that, said Keinon.

"The public who don't follow these things with a microscope take their lead from the government, and when the government puts out a statement thanking Canada for what they did ... that filters down into the people.''

That way of thinking resonates with Alan Levita, a Canadian citizen who has been living in Israel since 1982.

The 54-year-old said Canada in general has long played second fiddle to the United States when it comes to public discourse on North American policy.

But with Harper and Canada making headlines in Israel over the weekend, Levita said the tone could change.

"The U.S. features completely, but maybe Canada is getting a little more recognition now.''


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