LONDON – Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II bestowed an honorary knighthood on Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday. Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was escorted into Buckingham Palace by the Queen's Guard and the Household Cavalry.
The Queen stepped towards Peres and shook his hand before appointing him Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) - the United Kingdom's sixth highest honor. As Peres is not a subject of the Commonwealth, he did not kneel upon receiving the honor and may not employ the title 'sir.'
After the ceremony the Queen met Peres in private. The president briefed the monarch on the current security situation in Israel, with the Queen taking a particular in interest in Sderot and the Gaza-vicinity communities.
The Queen also shared details of the planned London economic conference, which is set to take place after US President-elect Barack Obama takes office.
Peres used the opportunity to praise the cooperation between Britain and Israel, saying: "You learned from the bible, and we learned from your democracy. There is in our hearts a little criticism of Britain, but a great deal of regard towards English democracy."
The president even earned a laugh from the Queen by quoting the words of the late PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, in saying: "Democracy, my God, who invented it? It is so difficult, so tiring!"
Peres then added: "We were not born to lord over others, or to occupy. One of the greatest triumphs of the 20th century was the liberation of women from servitude to men. To my Arab friends I say as well that the occupation of men must end so as to allow progress and development."
Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom, GPO
The president did not go empty handed, and one of the presents he brought the Queen is a letter written by her father, King George VI, in which he recognized the newly-founded State of Israel.
"I believe that the British leadership is very amiable towards Israel," said Peres with the culmination of the ceremony, adding that he sees the honor bestowed upon him as a testament to the friendship between the two countries.
"The knighthood was a public declaration of support. This is the first time an Israeli figure has been knighted, it was without a doubt a gesture of friendship."
Later in the evening Peres met with Prince Charles. The two discussed the matter of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and Peres urged his host to help secure a visit with Shalit by Red Cross representatives.
Since being abducted into Gaza by Palestinian gunmen in June 2006, Shalit has received no visitors and no one has verified his health of conditions of imprisonment.
"I know you have warm ties with many leaders in the Middle East," Peres told the prince, and urged him to help the Red Cross visit take place.
The two also discussed the current situation in Israel, the ongoing peace process with the Palestinian Authority, the Iranian nuclear threat and cooperation on various environmental projects Prince Charles is promoting.