05/29/2011 10:58 EDT | Updated 07/29/2011 05:12 EDT

Netanyahu Asked Harper To Support Israel At G8: Reports

(CP) -- Stephen Harper's spokesman is denying a report that Israel's prime minister specifically asked Canada to thwart G8 support for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders.

A report published by Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Sunday quoted a senior Israeli official saying Benjamin Netanyahu telephoned Harper two days before the Group of Eight leaders met, and asked the prime minister to prevent the G8 from supporting the border proposal outlined in a statement by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Obama's speech earlier this month on the future of the Middle East 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.

Israel was particularly concerned about the border proposal because, according to a government official, at least seven out of the eight G8 countries supported including it in the summit declaration, Haaretz said.

The G8's final declaration released Friday did not include any mention of borders in discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Harper's spokesman Dimitri Soudas told The Canadian Press Sunday that there was no G8 discussion with Netanyahu.

"The prime minister's views are long-standing and well known on the Middle East process towards a two state solution," Soudas said. "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."

According to Haaretz however, Netanyahu told Harper that mentioning the border issue would be detrimental to Israeli interests and a reward to the Palestinians.

As the summit wrapped, European diplomats told reporters the omission of the Obama border proposal from the G8 statement was brought about because of objections from Canada.

Harper neither confirmed nor denied that report at the time. He told reporters that while he broadly supported the theme of Obama's speech, bits of it could 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 and conceded to be a Jewish state, another is that the Palestinian state must be a demilitarized state," Harper said 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."

Harper has been a staunch supporter of Israel for years, and was described by Haaretz 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."

From a government perspective, Keinon said the Netanyahu administration knows very well who its friends are, and makes sure to acknowledge its appreciation of Canada's pro-Israel stance.

An example of this was seen on Saturday when Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman phoned his Canadian counterpart, John Baird, to thank him for Ottawa’s position at the G8 — an event reported by 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 media.

Canada's profile among the general Israeli public is often still overshadowed by the U.S., but more frequent 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 States when it comes to public discourse on North American policy.

"It's always going to be what the United States says," he said. "There's going to be very little what Canada says."

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

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