Better Israeli-Arab Relations 'Fundamental Goal' of Jewish State

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Better relations with its Arab neighbors is a "fundamental goal" of Israel, a govenment official said on Wednesday. The comment followed reports that an Israeli official recently met with a Libyan representative to pave the way for possible future talks.

The reports came amidst a flurry of diplomatic activity in the region: Syrian President Bashar Assad make the first trip ever by a Syrian leader to Turkey; and Iran announced that it is establishing ties with Egypt after a 25-year break.

The Israeli media reports about the alleged Israeli-Libyan meeting said that Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom's bureau chief, Ron Proser, met with a Libyan envoy two weeks ago in Paris to discuss opening up an Israeli-Libyan dialogue.

A Kuwaiti newspaper A-Siyasa reported on Tuesday that Israeli and Libyan officials met in Vienna last week and an Israeli delegation of Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and Mossad Intelligence officials would visit Tripoli soon to establish a framework for a peace agreement.

Knesset member Ephraim Sneh of the opposition Labor party confirmed an earlier report on Wednesday that he and lawmaker Ilan Shalgi, of the Shinui party, met with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son in August and said that the Libyan leader might even establish diplomatic ties with Israel.

Without commenting directly on the media reports about Libya, an Israeli government official stressed that Israel would not miss any opportunity to strive for peace with any of its Arab neighbors.

"Israel welcomes any opportunity to make any progress of any kind with its Arab neighbors," said the official who did not want to be named. "This is a fundamental goal of the State of Israel."

Later, Foreign Minister Shalom indicated that the meeting with Prosor and a Libyan envoy had indeed taken place but said that while dialogue is good, the press reports had harmed Israel.

"Any kind of dialogue involved with the promise of peace is very important [to Israel]," Shalom said, according to Foreign Ministry officials.

Nevertheless, Shalom said it would be a "long road" to the establishment of relations between Israel and Libya. Gaddafi needs to demonstrate by his deeds that his face is toward real dialogue, he said.

Shalom criticized the media reports about the alleged meeting, saying they had caused "political damage" to Israel and had very much "harmed" the process.

But another Israeli source disagreed that the reports had caused damage. "Gaddafi took the decision to be part of the game," said the source, who asked not to be named.

She said the regional diplomatic activity was part of an "atmosphere" that was sweeping the moderate Arab world right now and even touching Libya, Syria and Iran.

"[They are] under the tremendous impact of what happened [in Iraq] and to [deposed Iraqi leader] Saddam [Hussein]," she said. They are thinking that if they can't beat America and the West then they might as well join them, little by little and under their own conditions, she added.

Gaddafi recently announced that his country was ready to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction and allow international inspectors to enter the sites, following nine months of secret talks with the U.S.

Syria's Assad said some weeks ago in a New York Times interview that he was willing to reopen negotiations with Israel without pre-conditions. On Tuesday, he started his historic three-day visit to Turkey, which is a strong ally of both the U.S. and Israel.

Also on Tuesday, Tehran, which severed relations with Egypt in 1979 because Cairo received the deposed shah, Muhammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, announced that it would be resuming diplomatic ties with Cairo.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher backed off from the statement

Earlier, in an apparently friendly gesture to Egypt, the official Iranian news agency IRNA announced that the Tehran City Council had agreed to a federal government request to rename a street, which had been called Khaled Islambouli, after the assassin of slain Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

The new street name is Intifadah Avenue, in reference to the Palestinian uprising against Israel.

Overall, the Israeli source said that the diplomatic movement was a positive development.

"It's good. It's all for the best," she said. "It's good for the area as a whole.""