|Out of all the Arab Gulf countries,
Qatar enjoys the best relations
Silvan Shalom spoke with Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani during a stopover before travelling on to London. Both were present at the following press conference, but few details were given.
Shalom’s first diplomatic encounter with an Arab counterpart since he took office as foreign minister in February only lasted around an hour.
The Israeli foreign minister said the talks could help improve Israel’s relations with the Arab world.
The meeting at a Paris hotel is the result of a US drive to get Israel and Palestinians to start implementing an international “road map” for Middle East peace.
Shalom said they had discussed “everything included in the peace process”, but refused to give details.
“I think the approach of the Qatari foreign minister is very positive, this meeting between us can be the start that will bring better relations between Israel and Qatar, and Israel and the Arab world,” he added.
‘Road map’ strategy
Sheikh Hamad said Qatar had urged both Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks.
“We’ve been carrying long discussions with the Israelis on how to take practical measures to end the killings between the Israelis and the Palestinians, especially the daily killings of our brethren Palestinians in the absence of any Arab move,” said Sheikh Hamad.
“We see daily funerals of the Palestinian victims. All we hear is just general discussions with no real results. That’s why we’ve started talking with Israelis on the necessity of finding a solution,” he added.
The ‘road map’, drawn up by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, envisages an independent Palestinian state by 2005.
The Palestinian Authority leadership has accepted its terms but Israel has drawn up 15 reservations including that Palestinians renounce the right of return for refugees.
Meetings between Israeli ministers and their Arab counterparts have been rare since the start of a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for statehood 31 months ago, though Qatar has had low level trade relations since 1996.
On Sunday, Sheikh Hamad said Qatar could consider a peace treaty with Israel if it served the Gulf state’s interests.
“If we think it will serve our purpose and our country, we can study this,” he said.
But Sheikh Hamad played down the possibility in Paris, suggesting it was not a priority and linking it to progress in Middle East peacemaking.