Kasuri ‘to meet Israeli minister’

Published September 1, 2005

ISLAMABAD, Aug 31: Pakistan and Israel are all set to have the first overt high-level political contact on Thursday. In what is seen as a major diplomatic development the foreign ministers of the two countries will meet in Istanbul, informed sources told Dawn on Wednesday.

The meeting between Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom is taking place in response to Israel’s keenness to establish contact with Pakistan, it is learnt.

However, there is no official word on the crucial meeting yet. Foreign Office spokesman was not available for comments when Dawn tried to contact him on Wednesday.

According to diplomatic sources, the meeting would focus on the developments in the Middle East peace process. They say the meeting ought not to be read as Pakistan’s recognition of Israel but seen as the opening of dialogue between the two countries which have no direct political disputes.

HOW IT HAPPENED: It is learnt that covert contacts between representatives of the Jewish state and Pakistan had been going on for several months through diplomatic and informal channels.

However, the decisive factor for the first open political contact between the two countries was the Israeli pullout from Gaza last month which in Pakistan is viewed as a positive move and has been welcomed by the government.

Apparently, the Israeli government had approached Pakistan several times in the last one year to make the contacts public. The response from Islamabad each time was that it would do so at an ‘appropriate’ time. After the Israeli pullout from Gaza, Pakistan signalled to the Israelis that it was ‘now ready’ for an overt contact.

The two sides then decided to have the meeting on a neutral territory. Pakistan took the Turkish leadership into confidence and suggested Istanbul as the venue for the groundbreaking meeting. Turkey gave the green light and Israel also agreed to hold the first meeting there. It was decided not to make the meeting public till it had taken place.

Turkey which has excellent relations with Pakistan is among the several Muslim countries, including Egypt and Jordan, that have full diplomatic ties with Israel.

Successive Pakistani governments, including those led by Gen Zia, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, also had contact with Israel.

On Tuesday, President Gen Pervez Musharraf telephoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and informed him about the proposed meeting. The Palestinian president’s response was ‘very positive’ and he welcomed the initiative, it is learnt. It is believed President Musharraf also told his Palestinian counterpart that he would soon be sending a delegation to Gaza and Al Quds.

President Abbas during his visit to Pakistan in May had requested President Musharraf to send a delegation to Palestine. Later, the Foreign Office declared that in principle Pakistan had agreed to it. Subsequently, on several occasions the FO spokesman when asked about the timing of the visit as well as the size and composition of the delegation he had indicated that it was in the works.

The opening of Pakistan-Israel communication channels does not come out of the blue. It follows President Musharraf’s recent decision to address the American Jewish Congress in New York in September. He will be the first Muslim leader to do so.

About two years back President Musharraf had initiated a public debate on the controversial question of Israel’s recognition. The outcome of the debate led to the policy decision that the recognition of Israel would be linked to the total withdrawal of Israel from occupied Arab territories and establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Added to these factors are the strategic dimension and Pakistan’s national security considerations and the influence of the Jewish lobby and Israel in American policies.

Political analysts say each government in Pakistan had established covert contacts with the state of Israel.

However, with the Israeli pullout from Gaza the present government decided to go public with it.—Q.A.

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