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Beating War Drums.

In a poll published on Sept. 27, most Palestinians favour launching rockets at Israeli cities the way Hizbullah did during the recent war with Israel. Some 63% think Palestinians should emulate Hizbullah's methods compared with 35% who disagreed, according to the poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah. The results show that opponents of peace settlement by negotiations are on the rise. And ironically, it is expected, not only in Palestine but also in other countries such as Syria. Olmert on Sept. 28 reiterated Israel's readiness to fight if Syria opened the Golan front, as there was recurring talk of Assad's Ba'thist dictatorship attacking the Jewish state with missiles as Hizbullah did from July 12 to Aug. 14.

Not to mention Assad's leaps from one blunder to another since he inherited his father's presidency in mid-2000, the aggressive policies of the Israeli governments over the past six years led first by Ariel Sharon and now by Ehud Olmert have killed any little chance there had been for peace. Their refusal to accept UN resolutions and the US-backed roadmap has led to the alienation of peace advocates and to the popularity of confrontational policies, as the Palestinian poll shows and as Assad's new thinking tends to indicate.

Olmert does not hesitate to train his guns on Syria. By declaring the occupied Golan Heights as "an integral part" of Israel, he is in fact declaring war on Syria. Then he says there is no way Israel would negotiate peace with Damascus. Gulf New on Sept. 28 said: "Olmert, in trying to escape the public anger over his administration of the recent war [in Lebanon], would try to launch another war. Any war, with Syria, will certainly have wider and bloodier repercussions than the last one".

Saudis & Israelis Deny Secret Talks - Qatar's Game: Israel and Saudi Arabia on Sept. 25-28 issued blunt denials that a new-found relationship had been sealed at a secret summit of their leaders, after signs emerged of an unexpected rapprochement between the two. On Sept. 28, the influential editor of al-Riyadh, a leading Saudi daily, Turki al-Sudairi, told the BBC the story of such encounter may have originated from a leak by the foreign minister of "a very small...unimportant [Arab] Gulf state". Sudairi made it a point not to mention the state's name, although experts were unanimous that he had Qatar in mind. The Foreign Minister of Qatar, Shaikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani, is a man to watch.

Hamad bin Jassem is a controversial man, just as Qatar as a very small state is controversial - mainly because its ruler Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani is controversial. Qatar has offered itself to be the main operational base for the US Central Command, which is in charge of the US military in a number of Middle East countries including Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, however, since the ruler toppled his father in a coup in June 1995, Qatar has owned and financed al-Jazeera, the pan-Arab satellite TV network which is the most virulent among the anti-US media in the Arab/Muslim world. Because the royal family of Saudi Arabia had sided with his father, Shaikh Hamad has since been against the very thing - anything - Riyadh has stood for. Because Riyadh was against Hizbullah's July 12 capture of two Israeli soldiers, which triggered the war, Qatar sided with both Hizbullah and the Ja'fari theocracy of Iran, as well as Syria, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and any other outfit which is hostile to both Israel and the US.

Speaking to al-Jazeera in late July, for example, Shaikh Hamad bin Jassem said certain Arab states had sided with Israel and the US to liquidate Hizbullah in Lebanon. But he declined to name any country, saying: "I am surprised at the Arab agreement...for Israel to end this issue and end the presence of Hizbullah in this region. There was more or less agreement from some Arab states that Israel completes its mission [of finishing Hizbullah off] before a ceasefire. I think they were thinking of Lebanon's general interest but forgot the Arab interest and their citizens. Some have changed their views, which is good. This doesn't mean that we agree with all what took place from Hizbullah, or Hamas or others...but it would be strange to allow the completion of this [Israeli] mission" against Hizbullah and Hamas.

Having said all that, Shaikh Hamad in August became Lebanon's and Hizbullah's "godfather" at the UN Security Council - as Qatar now was a member of the UNSC. But as he was pleading their case, he did not hesitate to heartily shake the hands of Israel's UN ambassador and other envoys of the Jewish state. After the war he met with Israel's attractive Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni.

Responding to a report in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Sept. 25 that he had met a senior Saudi official, possibly King Abdullah, in mid-September, Olmert told the newspaper's Ynet website: "I neither met the Saudi king nor any other official who should touch off sensations in the press". Israeli officials, while offering no information on the reported contacts, nevertheless echoed previous comments by Olmert in which he praised the Saudis for their positive stance on big issues confronting the Middle East.

Officials on Sept. 25 said Saudi Arabia would only risk direct contact with Israel if a peace agreement with the Palestinians appeared within reach - which is currently far from the case. The kingdom, which has never had diplomatic ties with Israel, has been hoping to revive its March 2002 Arab peace initiative which offers the Israelis a normalisation of relations with all Arab states in return for withdrawal from territory they occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. But the FT on Sept. 26 reported "Saudi analysts close to the government" as saying the leadership in Riyadh saw little prospect of a revival of the Arab peace process at this point, given the weakness of Olmert's government, the lack of active US diplomacy and the dominance of the radical Hamas group in the Palestinian territories. The FT quoted one analyst as saying: "It's the worst time for Saudi Arabia to meet with Israelis - we'd get bad publicity and for no good reason".

Israel has in the past criticised Saudi support for militant groups such as the Palestinian Hamas. However, Israeli officials discern a number of shared interests as both sides confront the rise of radicalism in the region. The FT quoted an Israeli official as saying: "If you look at the three central issues facing the region - Iran's nuclear programme, Lebanon and the situation in the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, from our point of view, is fundamentally on the constructive side".

The shift in the Israeli view of Saudi Arabia was related to Saudi criticism of Hizbullah for its July 12 "adventure", a belief that its backing for Hamas had waned, and a perception that a nuclear Iran would pose a threat to both Israel and Saudi Arabia. Olmert fuelled the speculation about high-level contacts in an interview in Yedioth Ahronoth on Sept. 22 in which he said: "I am very impressed with the various acts and statements connected with Saudi Arabia, both those that were made publicly and others as well. I am very impressed with King Abdullah's insight and sense of responsibility". Asked if secret talks were being held between the two sides, he replied: "I don't have to answer every question".

The New York Times on Sept. 25 quoted David Kimche, head of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, as saying government officials from the two countries had never met publicly; but they had quietly shared intelligence information in the past. Both countries were concerned about Iran and its nuclear programme, he said, and links between Shi'ite groups stretching from Iran to Lebanon. Yediot Aharonot, citing unidentified government officials, said Olmert's meeting took place about 10 days earlier with an official who was close to the Saudi king.

There was no word on where the talks took place; but on Sept. 28 the BBC indicated that they were held in Amman. On Sept. 25, Ha'aretz reported on its Website that there may have been a meeting between one of Olmert's envoys and a Saudi official in a third country. Israel has full diplomatic relations with just two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan. Israel has had lower-level ties with other states, although many of those dealings have been frozen during the Israeli-Palestinian fighting over the past six years.

Kimche said: "If there was a meeting, and I believe there was, the Saudis obviously thought it would be very discreet. I'm sure they are shocked this has come out". Yediot Aharonot reported in the previous week that Saudis and Israel began discussions during the fighting.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Oct 2, 2006
Words:1467
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