TEL AVIV (Dec. 15)
Although Israeli peace negotiators are talking face to face with Arab delegations in Washington, the Arab world seems to be determined to block telephone communication with Israel.
Jordan and the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar have appealed to international telephone companies not to cooperate with Israel’s efforts to establish direct-dial service to Arab countries.
That had been the intention of Bezek, the Israeli government-owned telephone company, which hoped to begin direct dialing to neighboring Arab countries this week.
Bezek succeeded in launching a limited direct-dial service on a trial basis earlier this month. It quietly informed some of its clients in Israel and the West Bank that they could now dial anywhere in the Middle East.
Thousands of Palestinians have since used the service to talk to relatives and friends abroad. Until now, only Egypt has official direct phone connections with Israel.
Israelis have been fond of referring to the telephone metaphorically as an instrument for peace. Its leaders, at least as far back as Golda Meir, have lamented that the Arabs won’t “pick up the phone” to talk peace.
Benjamin Netanyahu, a leading Israeli negotiator in Washington, has complained that the Arabs are “not answering our phone calls.”
But the Arab countries say that when they signed the international telephone conventions several years go, they specifically excluded phone contacts with Israel.