Qatar closes Israeli trade office
Qatar announced Thursday the closure of Israel's trade office to save an Islamic summit that the tiny Gulf state is hosting after Muslim giants Saudi Arabia and Iran threatened a boycott. A government spokesman said the closure would rally solidarity and allow the success of the November 12-14 summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), devoted to the Palestinian cause.
“This measure has been taken, considering the interest shown by the leaders of the OIC, faced with the difficult circumstances through which the Middle East is passing and the escalation of Israeli repression in the occupied territories,” the spokesman said. The closure of the office in Doha “reinforces Arab solidarity and creates the appropriate conditions for holding the ninth summit and for the success of its work,” he said.
The summit of the 56-member grouping was thrown into doubt Wednesday when Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and home to the OIC, announced a boycott over Qatar's ties to Israel. The spokesman said only that the office would be closed and did not mention a total break with Israel, upon which Saudi Arabia had insisted.
In Teheran, President Mohammad Khatami's office said Qatar had decided to break ties with Israel and that he would thus attend the summit to hand over the rotating OIC presidency to Qatar for the next three years.
Unlike fellow Arab states Oman, Tunisia and Morocco, which also had commercial relations with Israel before the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising at the end of September, Qatar had ignored calls to shut down the trade office, which opened in 1996.
OIC foreign ministers met during a day devoted to the Palestinian question. A political committee drew up a draft declaration calling on “member countries who have established relations with Israel ... to break these relations and end all forms of normalization.”
The draft, obtained by AFP, urged OIC leaders “to abide by the Islamic boycott of Israel” and not to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to the occupied Holy City of Jerusalem.
The draft salutes Palestinian resistance to the Israeli army.
“The current situation requires a revision of economic relations with Irael,” said Farouq Qaddumi, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization political department. He told the committee all ties with Israel should be cut “to respect UN Security council resolutions and the agreements made with the Palestinians.”
The draft echoed Palestinian demands for international protection and an inquiry into the causes of the violence. The text also backs full membership of the United Nations for a Palestinian state. The Palestinians have observer status at the UN.
Qatar had fired the first diplomatic broadside against Israeli repression at the opening of the ministerial session. “It falls on us to express strongly our united position with regard to the Palestinian cause,” Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani said. He also called on Muslims to support Iraq in its fight to end the UN sanctions imposed since it invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi condemned Israeli aggression and atrocities against Palestinians. More than 190 Palestinians have been killed in six weeks of clashes with Israeli occupation troops since late September.
The Palestinian uprising in Israel and the Palestinian territories top the agenda of the summit, to be held under the slogan of “Peace and Development”. But the civil war in Afghanistan, the Kashmir conflict, Kosovo and Chechnya, as well as the situation of Muslim minorities in Asia and Africa are also on the agenda for the OIC leaders.
Meanwhile, the United States on Thursday lamented Qatar's decision to close Israel's trade office, a move that one senior official said was a setback in efforts to “quell continuing violence” in the Middle East.
“We would like people to hold fast with their relationships while we try to calm the violence and get back to the peace process,” a senior State Department official told AFP as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat arrived here for talks with President Bill Clinton.
“We don't think this is the occasion to be severing the ties which are needed to re-establish a sense of direction for the region,” the official said. Washington has been urging Arab states with ties to Israel not to cut them, arguing that dialogue of any kind with the Jewish state is helpful in finding a way to end the clashes. — (AFP, Doha)
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)