Israel Seeks Diplomatic Ties With More Muslim States

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Considered a "pariah" state in much of the Arab and Muslim world, Israel now is hoping to establish diplomatic ties with more Muslim-majority countries -- Afghanistan, for instance, a country that has never had diplomatic ties with Israel.

A Pakistani newspaper, the Daily Times, over the weekend quoted Afghani diplomatic sources as saying that Afghanistan would announce in the next few days that it would recognize Israel, opening the way "for other Muslim countries such as Pakistan to follow suit."

But in response to the report, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai quoted Karzai as saying that diplomatic relations with Israel would be established only "after our Palestinian brothers have an independent and free state."

Nevertheless, Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said there was a "positive momentum" that Israel hoped would result in the establishment of relations with more countries that have a Muslim majority in the "not too distant future."

Karzai gave interviews to an Israeli newspaper and Israeli television station late last week in which he expressed a desire to move forward in diplomatic relations with Israel, said Regev.

(Leaders and officials of Muslim countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel usually do not talk to Israeli media.)

"We welcome that," said Regev. "It's important to remember that large parts of the Arab world considered Israel a pariah state [and] illegitimate." Now there is a situation where the leader of a Muslim state talks about recognizing Israel, he added.

Egypt was the first Arab state to establish diplomatic ties with Israel in 1979, followed by Jordan only 15 years later in 1994.

Since the international peace conference in Madrid in 1991, Turkey upgraded its relations with Israel; and Mauritania and six former Soviet republics with Muslim majorities have established full diplomatic ties with Israel.

"We're hopeful that in the not too distant future [the number will increase] from 10 to more," said Regev.

Israel has some contact with Pakistan, Indonesia, Morocco, Tunisia and some of the Gulf States, said Regev. The situation is "looking good," he said.

Israel's withdrawal from 21 Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements won it great accolades in the international community.

Last month Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon shook hands with Pakistani President Musharraf on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting following the first public meeting between Israeli and Pakistani foreign ministers.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom also met with his Indonesian counterpart last month.

According to Regev, relations between Israel and any of the above-named countries would represent a "win-win" situation, not only in the trade, economic and agricultural ties but also because such relations would represent a "win-win" situation for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The official position of the Arab League is not to normalize relations with Israel until there is an Israeli-Palestinian peace but this is "illogical," said Regev.

Ultimately if leaders of important Muslim countries recognize and make peace with Israel, it "energizes Palestinian moderates who want to solve [the problems] at the negotiating table and pulls the rug out from under Palestinians [who want to deal with the situation with] suicide bombings," Regev said.

If there is a growing Arab consensus for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through negotiations, Israel hopes it would lead to the de-legitimization of "extremist elements," he said.

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