JERUSALEM (Sep. 14)
The historic Israeli-Palestinian signing ceremony at the White House this week has already had a far-reaching diplomatic impact, with several longtime enemies of Israel announcing interest in establishing relations with the Jewish state.
Officials here were expecting Morocco to make such an announcement soon, following a surprise visit to that country Tuesday by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
In the event of such a decision, Morocco would be the first Arab state since Egypt to establish formal ties with Israel.
Malaysia and Zimbabwe have also indicated they would like to inaugurate ties with Israel, and officials here say they expect other Arab and Muslim countries to follow suit.
Tunisian officials reportedly have said they are ready to establish official ties with Israel as soon as another Arab country does so.
Tunisia is slated to host the next round of multilateral talks on refugee issues, scheduled for Oct. 12-14, which will include Israeli participation.
Meanwhile, the Muslim countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan reportedly have also welcomed Israel’s historic agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization. Pakistan has in the past been one of Israel’s harshest critics.
Egypt’s ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Basiouny, said Tuesday that the more progress that is made toward solving problems between Israel and its neighbors, the more likely Arab countries will be to establish diplomatic ties.
RABIN SEEKS ‘HIS MAJESTY’S ADVICE’
Rabin and Peres made their surprise visit to Morocco on their way home to Israel after the signing in Washington on Monday of the landmark agreement on Palestinian self-rule.
Upon his arrival at Rabat airport, Rabin told reporters he had come to Morocco for the meeting with King Hassan II “to get his majesty’s advice concerning a rapprochement between Israel and the Arabs.”
Rabin said that after “mutual recognition and the signing of the agreement with the PLO in Washington, we hope and believe it’s possible to widen the relations among the Arab states.”
Rabin visited Morocco secretly in 1976, and Peres has met with Hassan on several other occasions, all of which were low-profile visits.
But on this occasion, they were given an official welcome before being escorted to the king’s Atlantic seaside palace.
The king has long maintained a positive attitude toward Israel, but has refrained from establishing diplomatic ties in advance of neighboring Arab states. He has also met with Jewish groups in the past.
In August, the king granted a private audience to an American Jewish philanthropist, S. Daniel Abraham of Palm Beach, Fla., as well as other representatives of the Center for Middle East Peace and Cooperation.
Abraham presented the king with a check for $100,000 from the center in honor of a new mosque to be dedicated in Casablanca in the king’s name.
In Israel, Police Minister Moshe Shahal, who was serving as acting prime minister in the absence of Rabin, said Tuesday the meetings in Morocco mean the agreement signed Monday has ushered in a new era, whose hallmark would be the normalization of relations with “many Arab and Islamic countries.”
“There is no need to sneak into a country as we did before,” he said.
In the wake of the signed declaration of principles between Israel and the PLO, said Shahal, “there is no reason why we cannot have diplomatic relations” with other Arab countries.
He said it is “only a matter of time” and not a “question of principle” before Saudi Arabia would recognize and establish ties with Israel.
“I certainly see a new Middle East,” he added. “Maybe in a few years we will deal with questions of the environment instead of talking about questions of war and peace.”
Israeli President Ezer Weizman said at a diplomatic reception to celebrate Rosh Hashanah that he hoped next year, Basiouny would not be the only Arab ambassador in Israel.
While he cautioned that there are many “ups and downs” ahead, he expressed confidence that Israel and its Arab neighbors could achieve a comprehensive peace.
Meanwhile, opposition parties continued to criticize the Israeli-PLO agreement as a threat to Israel’s security.
Likud Knesset member Ze’ev “Benny” Begin, son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who signed the Camp David accords, called the agreement “a very severe blow to the State of Israel and to the cause of peace in our region, in total contrast to the Camp David accord.”
Begin pledged Likud would work to convince the Israeli electorate that the Labor government is on the wrong track and should be replaced.
The Knesset is due to vote on the Palestinian self-rule agreement next Tuesday.