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Qatar offers rare praise for Israel
Updated: 2005-09-16 08:58

Israel's withdrawal from Gaza yielded swift returns on the world stage Thursday: praise from Qatar and an unusual meeting between the Arab emirate's foreign minister and his Israeli counterpart.

The meeting, on the sidelines of the U.N. summit, was described as a first step in efforts to arrange a summit between the two nations.

The session was Israel's latest diplomatic reward for ending its 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip — its first-ever evacuation of territory the Palestinians claim for a future state.

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.

But there will be limits to the diplomatic payback. Muslim nations want Israel to return all territory captured in the 1967 Mideast war, not just Gaza. And they're not trying to lure the Israelis with territorial concessions.

sraeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, left, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair meet at the United Nations, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005. (AP
sraeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, left, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair meet at the United Nations, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005.[AP]
Using unusually forceful language, Sharon told the summit Thursday that Israel recognized the Palestinians' right to a state of their own. But the ball, he said, is now in the Palestinians' court.

"Now it is the Palestinians' turn to prove their desire for peace," Sharon said. "The most important test the Palestinian leaders will face is in fulfilling their commitment to putting an end to terror and its infrastructures, eliminate the anarchic regime of armed gangs and cease the incitement and indoctrination of hatred toward Israel and the Jews."

The General Assembly hall gave Sharon courteous applause when he finished his speech, though Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser Al-Kidwa was shown sitting with his arms folded over his chest.

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.
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