MELBOURNE, Australia (JTA) – Shahar Peer is poised to become the first Israeli tennis player to compete in Qatar.
Peer, who was eliminated from the Australian Open last Friday by Russia’s Elena Dementieva, confirmed she will compete in the Qatar Open from Feb. 18 to 24.
Last year, she was ineligible to enter the $2.5 million tournament in the Persian Gulf state because she was still officially enlisted in the Israeli army.
This year, however, the world’s 17th ranked player has no such restrictions.
“I’m really comfortable about” going to Qatar, she said after her second-round victory at Melbourne Park last week. “Doha is a big tournament. I really want to go play tennis. It’s a very nice country, and I’ll just go there and have fun and do what I need to do.”
Peer, who on Monday reached the women’s doubles quarterfinals at the Australian Open, said when she first considered traveling to Qatar last year she asked advice from people in Israel.
“Right away they said it’s no problem because there are many Israelis going there,” she said.
Andy Ram, of Israel’s top doubles duo, has avoided Qatar due to security concerns.
Doha, the Qatari capital, was granted a tournament by the World Tennis Association on the condition that entry be based on merit and not any other factors.
Israel and Qatar do not have formal diplomatic ties, but relations have warmed between the two countries in recent years.
In 2005, Israel supported Qatar’s bid for a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. That same year Qatar’s foreign minister met with then-Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and said his state may establish relations with Israel before the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Not long afterward, Qatar’s government pledged $2 million to help build a soccer stadium in the Israeli Arab town of Sakhnin.
Israel has had a trade office in Doha since 1996.
Peer, 20, said she was going to Qatar for sport, not politics, but if her visit spurred a change it would be a bonus.
“If it really helps for anything by the fact that I’m going to play in a Muslim country, I’ll be happy,” she said.
“I don’t know how it will help,” she added. “I am not doing it for that. I’m doing it because of my tennis and my career.”
Another Israeli, Tzipi Obziler, has entered the qualifying tournament in Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates.