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Analysis: Pakistan, Israel put out feelers (UPI) VIA-WASHINGTON TIMES) By Anwar Iqbal - Washington, DC 02/01/05)Source: http://www.washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20050131-043554-6432r.htm UPI} UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL UPI} UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Washington, DC, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Israel and Pakistan should have "direct, personal contact, publicly, without being ashamed about it," Israel´s Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres told the Pakistani newspaper Jang.

The exclusive interview last week with a reporter from Jang, which has a large circulation, sparked a militant rampage on the newspaper´s offices in Karachi. But Saturday´s vandalism did not shock many in Pakistan. Most people had expected some violent reaction from the country´s religious extremists soon after Jang published the interview on Friday.

What surprised them most is that less than 30 people participated in the assault in a city of almost 14 million people. Equally surprising for most Pakistanis was the reaction to the attack.

Almost all major political parties, social organizations and media groups condemned the ransacking and the beating of guards trying to protect the office. The condemnation was so strong that Pakistan´s main religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, was also forced to join the chorus.

"It is an attack on the press´s freedom to report things as they happen. This cannot be tolerated," said Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, a central leader of the MMA. The group wants Pakistan to quit the U.S.- led alliance against extremists and opposes any links with the Jewish state.

The attack did not discourage the Israelis either. A day after, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel doesn´t see Pakistan as an enemy, but rather as an important country in the Muslim world with which it is interested in normalizing ties.

Given the mutual distrust the two countries have for each other, the statement is significant. But even more so was a meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Saturday.

Israel and Pakistan do not have diplomatic ties. One was created as a state for Jews and champions Jewish causes around the world. The other was created as a state for Muslims of the subcontinent and has actively supported Palestinians and other Arabs.

But the situation began to change when Pakistan joined the U.S.- led "war on terror" following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Soon after joining the coalition, Pakistan´s President Pervez Musharraf started urging his people to "debate and discuss the possibility of having some relations with Israel." In June 2003, after receiving a $3 billion economic package from President George W. Bush at the Camp David presidential resort, Musharraf went one step further and said that Islamabad should consider recognizing Israel.

Those who believed that no Pakistani leader could put forward such a suggestion and survive predicted the beginning of the end for Musharraf. Some in his government also privately said that his statement about recognizing Israel could lead to a popular uprising against him. But nothing happened.

Encouraged by this lack of reaction, Musharraf repeated his proposal on several occasions last year, saying that if Arab states could recognize Israel, why not Pakistan.

"At the time, Musharraf´s comment was interpreted in Jerusalem as an attempt to gain good will in Washington. Jerusalem also sees Pakistani overtures as motivated in part by a desire to counter Israel´s close ties with India, Pakistan´s rival," said Jerusalem Post in an article Monday on the possibility of establishing a relationship with Pakistan.

It also quoted Regev as saying that any normalization of ties with Pakistan would "in no way interfere with or come at the expense of our good relationships with other countries on the subcontinent."

Israel and Pakistan have been making tentative overtures for at least two years but Israel only recently began talking publicly about it.

On Saturday, Israeli officials confirmed the Aziz-Shalom meeting but did not reveal its content. And the next day, Regev told reporters: "We are interested in normalizing relations with Pakistan on the basis of equality and mutual respect. The ball is in their court; we are ready to move."

Meanwhile, the Jang described Peres´s comments on Pakistan-Israel relations as "the latest sound-byte in an ongoing debate about whether mainly Pakistan should recognizing Israel if the fledgling Middle East peace plan remained on track."

The Jerusalem Post noted that at last year´s Davos meeting Peres shook hands and exchanged words with Musharraf, but the Shalom-Aziz meeting went beyond just a passing conversation in a hotel corridor.

In the Jang interview, Peres urged Pakistanis to reach out to Israel, saying, "There is no shame in peace; we should reach full normalization."

Asked whether Israel would accept a Pakistani role in the peace process, Peres said, "First and prior to anything, Pakistan has to decide to have contacts with both sides -- and that´s before playing a part in the Middle East peace process; it cannot play a role without having relationships with all the entities involved."

He added that since Israel has been able to develop close contacts with Turkey, which is also a Muslim state, there is no reason why the same could not be the case with Pakistan.

Last month, another Pakistani paper, the Daily Khabrain, published an interview with Amira Oren, director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry´s Arabic press and information department.

Oren was quoted as saying Israel "would warmly welcome any gesture of good will from Pakistan to normalize the relationship." (Copyright 2005 United Press International 02/01/05)

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