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September 16, 2005
Qatar Latest Arab Country To Greet Israel

Israel's withdrawal continues to pay diplomatic dividends. Yesterday, the two American allies held high-level meetings between their foreign ministers in public, making the emirate the third Arab nation in two weeks to extend some diplomatic recognition to the Israelis:

In a space of just two weeks, Qatar, Pakistan and Indonesia have all held high-level public meetings with Israel a rare event for Muslim countries. The president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, who had long taken an especially hardline stand against the Jewish state, even shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, in front of a host of delegates to the world summit.

Arab countries like Qatar are encouraging efforts to renew and expand peacemaking as a way to ease the Palestinian conflict and to blunt the influence of Islamic militants, who are using discontent about the Palestinians and the war in Iraq to stir up unrest worldwide.

They have also concluded that Israel is not going to be destroyed and that it might be in the Muslim nations' best interests to be involved in the Mideast peace process.

As I argued earlier, Gaza held almost no value for Israel and had become a millstone around the Israeli's necks. Pulling their vulnerable citizens behind the security wall and closing the borders allowed them to create a defensible perimeter and opened up more options for responses to provocative actions from the terrorists within the territory. Diplomatically, it signalled tho regional moderates that Israel would risk a first step in order to resolve the situation, and therefore put the Palestinians in the position of having to respond with a matching gesture.

So far, the Israelis have managed to turn this into a diplomatic triumph. It will find tougher slogging ahead when Muslim nations try to bargain with Israel on Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements. However, their direct diplomacy represents a marked improvement over the previous method that relied on the US and Europe as intermediaries; after all, peace cannot easily come between nations who cannot be seen talking with each other out of fear of deadly reprisals from their own subjects.

Moreover, the expanding diplomatic ties of Israel put more pressure on Mahmoud Abbas to meet his basic commitments of peacemaking before the other nations will press Israel for more concessions. They have belatedly found Islamist extremism and the American reaction to it highly unpalatable and want the region to stop producing it. If Abbas cannot handle the Palestinians, he may find the Palestinians losing even the public expressions of sympathy and support they have used to sustain their mythology of victimhood for decades. The Qatari minister makes this clear:

Addressing the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday, the Qatari foreign minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al Thani, saluted Israel for quitting Gaza and said Arab nations must respond with their own overtures.

"Failure to address internal political, economic and social grievances associated with the lack of a just and equitable settlement for the Palestinian question and the conflict in the Middle East strengthens the arm of extremism," he said.

On Thursday, al Thani said it was possible to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel before the formation of an independent Palestine.

Even the Arab nations have accepted Israel's existence. They have had their fill of the decades-old conflict and want this question settled -- and with Israel's pullout from Gaza, they finally see an opening. For the first time, they hold their fellow Arabs responsible for taking the next steps towards real peace.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 16, 2005 5:53 AM

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