Russian President Vladimir Putin had to swallow hard Tuesday when Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas surprised him by naming a road in Bethlehem in honor of his guest. In Europe, as in Israel, the honor is reserved for those who are dead.
Putin, speaking in Jordan after his visits to the Palestinian Authority and Israel, admitted he was "at a bit of a loss" when Abbas named the Bethlehem street after him.
"I would like to live a bit longer," Putin laughed, half seriously. "Just as in this case and in others, I'm usually told in advance and for me this was completely unexpected. To be honest, I am at a bit of loss but there's nothing you could do” since he did not want to insult Abbas by protesting.
Abbas went all out to welcome Putin, who has consistently backed the PA for its claims of sovereignty on all the land restored to Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967.
During his short visit to Israel, Putin visited the Western Wall but made his appearance there at 2 a.m. His aides explained the odd hour was in order to allow him “privacy,” but it may have been timed to avoid media exposure of his visit, which could be interpreted by the Palestinian Authority as tacit approval of Israel’s sovereignty over the holy site.
During his talks with Abbas, Putin praised the PA leader, who used the opportunity to call for an international peace conference in Moscow.