Tunisia Adds Its Name to the List of Those Initiating Ties with Israel

In a move reflecting greater international acceptance of Israel in the wake of its peace initiatives with the Palestinians, Israel and Tunisia have agreed to take a first step toward normalizing relations between the two countries.

After meeting in New York on Saturday, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and his Tunisian counterpart, Habib Ben Yahia, announced their countries would establish economic interest sections in Tel Aviv and Tunis.

Under the terms of their agreement, which was reached with the help of Belgium, the two countries will soon exchange economic representatives. Because interest sections mark a lower-level exchange than the establishment of embassies or consulates, each country’s representatives will be sent to the Belgian embassies in Tel Aviv and Tunis.

The question of when the two countries will begin stationing officials with higher diplomatic rank has been left open, pending further discussions.

Peres, who was in New York to attend last week’s opening sessions of the U.N. General Assembly, later said the agreement will extend Israel’s diplomatic ties in North Africa.

“This is an agreement we will pursue until we attain a full agreement on relations,” he told Israel Radio. “At this point, we have some sort of relations with three North African states — namely Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.”

On Sept. 1, Israel and Morocco announced they would establish economic liaison offices in Tel Aviv and Rabat, a move that made Morocco the second Arab country to establish ties with Israel. The first was Egypt, which signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1979.

ISRAEL GREETED WITH INCREASING ACCEPTANCE

Following the September breakthrough with Morocco, Israeli news reports suggested that Tunisia would soon follow its neighbor and initiate ties with Israel.

As the reports persisted, Tunisia issued a statement at the time saying it was not planning to establish official relations with Israel.

Israel has been greeted with increasing acceptance by the international community in the wake of the signing of the Declaration of Principles by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization last September in Washington.

Prior to the agreement with Tunisia, Israel established ties with 21 nations in the past year. Israel now has relations with 146 of the 185 member nations in the United Nations, the highest number since the state was established in 1948.

Along with its agreement with Israel, Tunisia also plans to establish economic liaison offices in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank enclave of Jericho.

The PLO maintained its headquarters in Tunisia from 1982 until July of this year, when PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat moved his headquarters to Gaza? Over the years, Tunisian government officials reportedly urged Arafat to pursue dialogue with Israel.

After meeting with Ben Yahia, Peres met with the foreign minister of Qatar, Hamad Thani. Qatar also is said to be interested in forging relations with Israel but has been under pressure from the Syrians not to do so.

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