Israeli Office in Doha Ducks Islamic Summit Rumpus
Israel's trade office in Doha was keeping a low profile on Wednesday, four years into its bumpy mission in Qatar, as a row deepened over Qatar's refusal to close it down as host of the Islamic summit.
While Saudi delegates walked out of preparatory meetings after Saudi Arabia's announcement of a boycott, it was business as usual for the Israeli office operating out of a villa on the outskirts of town.
Since the outbreak of deadly Israeli-Palestinian clashes at the end of September, "this office has been functioning under very low-profile dynamics and that will continue," said the mission's head, Eli Avidar.
"The office is functioning as usual, dealing with trade issues. We don't get involved with the politics," he told AFP. "We have no relations with the Qatari government. This is only a trade office."
But Avidar said even Israel's low-level missions in Arab states -- all of which have been closed since the Palestinian uprising erupted, apart from in Qatar and Mauritania -- were still an important component of the region's peace process.
"Our missions in the Arab world are part of the peace process. It's not over, the peace process. It will continue because there is no other choice," he said.
The Doha trade mission has had several ups and downs since trading links were established in 1996 and the office started to operate out of the Doha Sheraton, the same hotel where the Islamic heads of state are to hold the November 12-14 summit.
Qatar froze relations later the same year after the rise to power of right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister.
It took several months before a villa was found in the central Doha compound to house the office, amid an apparent reluctance to rent to Israelis. Last year, the Israelis were evicted under a court ruling after a protest from the landlord.
The office moved back to its original suite at the Sheraton for a month before finding a new villa in the residential district of Maamura.
The mission keeps a discreet presence, with no Star of David flying outside the villa it has occupied since July 1999. Avidar and his small staff live in a well-guarded, posh compound not far from the Sheraton.
His predecessor, Sammy Ravel, told AFP after Ehud Barak defeated Netanyahu in May 1999 elections that Israel was looking to better days ahead.
On the eve of the uprising that has now cost more than 180 lives, most of them Palestinian, Barak and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, met on the sidelines of the UN millennium summit in New York.
They even agreed to expand ties between their countries, according to a statement from the Israeli prime minister's office.
But the Saudi boycott marring the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) summit is the second such blow for Qatar, which in November 1997 hosted a Middle East economic conference that was boycotted by most Arab states in protest at Israel's participation -- DOHA (AFP)
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