Israel reaches out to Gulf Arabs with visit to Oman

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the architects of Israel's peace policy, Yossi Beilin, has achieved another breakthrough in Israel's relations with the Arab world by participating in talks in Oman on the first official visit by an Israeli minister to an Arab Gulf state since Israel declared independence 46 years ago.

Mr Beilin, who is deputy to Shimon Peres in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on arrival on Friday that the visit 'is important because it is broadening our horizons and enabling us to reach out to areas we had not reached before'.

He expressed regret that the Saudis refused to allow his Egyptian airliner to fly over Saudi airspace.

The Israeli delegation has been attending the latest round of multilateral talks to discuss water resources in the Middle East. Next month an Israeli delegation is going to a second Gulf Arab state, Qatar, to attend arms-control talks.

From Israel's point of view, the meetings and contacts conducted openly represent a further acceptance within the Arab world. There is a curious parallel with Israel's early foreign policy of enjoying relations with the peripheral states - the non-Arab countries of Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia, beyond the hostile Arab confrontation states which surround Israel. However, the real change has come in the stance of Oman and Qatar. Both are members of the Gulf Co-operation Council, the six-state grouping set up as a defence pact against the threat from Iraq and Iran.

Oman has always conducted an independent foreign policy, often at odds with the Arab consensus. It was one of only three Arab countries not to sever ties with Egypt after it made peace with Israel. During the eight-year Iraq- Iran war it adopted a stance of strict neutrality, enjoying relations with both sides.

Even after Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Oman maintained relations with Iraq. Last October an Iraqi trade exhibition was held in Oman.

Both Oman and Qatar last month played host to King Hussein of Jordan, still estranged from the other Arab Gulf capitals, notably Riyadh and Kuwait City, over his support for President Saddam. Both seek a reconciliation between those in the Arab world who favoured military action against President Saddam, and those who opposed it.