Thursday, November 26, 2009

Israeli Official Meetings in Oman and Morocco

High ranking Israeli officials have made appearances recently in two Arab countries with whom Israel used to have ties.

Piggybacking onto a conference dealing with desalinization in the middle east, top Israeli diplomats met with officials in Oman. These talks were officially considered secret, and there is little information available on their content. Nonetheless, not too long ago, Oman was one of a small number of Arab countries being pressured to normalize relations with Israel if Israel froze its settlement construction. As it happens, a settlement construction freeze was recently announced, just after the Oman meeting. It's not clear that there was any connection between the meeting in Oman and Netanyahu's declaration of the freeze, but the delegation to Oman contained some extremely high ranking officials of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is not much of a stretch to imagine that a diplomat of that level of seniority would have the authority to make certain agreements or carry high level messages. The coming days or weeks may tell if perhaps Oman agreed to certain aspects of normalization in exchange for the 10 month freeze.

On the other side of the Arab world, in the Magrheb, leader of the Israeli Opposition Kadima party, Tzipi Livni attended an international economic conference in Morocco, a country Israel once had beneficial relations with. There was much criticism of her visit since the Israeli government was uninvited at the last moment because it had approved the construction of 900 housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. It's especially interesting that the invitation to Livni stood because apparently, she supported the Gilo construction. Nonetheless, the conference provided a unique opportunity for Livini to pass on the Israeli-non-partisan-message that Israel wants peace and that the two state solution is the goal that should be aimed for.

Though quite distinct from one another, these two cases may be seen as a trend of sorts. Both Oman and Morocco are countries that have no real economic or military interest in not having ties with Israel, but perhaps have domestic political concerns. It's quite possible that the ordinary people in these countries may be more inclined to identify with Palestinian Arabs if even their governments want to try to build relations with Israelis. Dialogue is clearly possible and is clearly a good thing and economic ties will no doubt be useful in beginning to build a symbiosis of sorts that can lead to a further increase in relations. If the hatred amongst the people, however, remains as deep as it is (as recently illustrated by the Egypt-Algeria hacking incident) then there will remain a long way to go. It's positive that Israel can build political ties with these states, but it will need to start winning hearts and minds with cultural exchanges, demonstration of what is good in Israeli society and a sincere openness to the Arab world and to accept cultural and other imports from the Arab world, just as Israel would like to export its positive image to them.


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