FM: Israel has severed linkage of PA track, ties with Arab states
Discussing warming ties with Muslim states in the aftermath of the disengagement, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said in remarks broadcast Tuesday that Israel had broken the "absolute linkage" that had long existed between progress in negotiations with the Palestinians and broadened diplomatic relations with Arab and pro-Arab nations.
Shalom, who met with counterparts from Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt while on a current visit to New York, said of back-door talks with the Indonesian foreign minister and others that "I am certain that these relations, even if they are behind-the-scenes ties, will in the end thaw into public relations, with a much higher status than today."
Shalom said the disengagement had contributed to the current climate, which has seen new diplomatic overtures by Pakistan, Tunisia and other countries with respect to Israel.
"We have succeeded in breaking the absolute linkage which had existed between progress on the Palestinian track and progress on the Arab-Israeli track," Shalom said.
FM: If Hamas runs, Israel will try to impede PA vote
Shalom reiterated on Monday that the government will try to impede Palestinian elections if the militant group Hamas takes part.
With U.S. Ambassador John Bolton looking on, Shalom told American Jewish leaders that the government had no obligation to assist a vote that involves a group like Hamas, which calls for Israel's destruction.
While Israel has withdrawn from much of the Gaza Strip and couldn't impede the vote there, Shalom said the Palestinians won't be able to conduct the January vote in the West Bank without help.
"They need us for bringing pooling booths, they need us to give voters freedom of movement, to cancel those roadblocks and checkpoints," Shalom said. "And we're not going to do it because Hamas is a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel."
Last week, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made similar remarks on the sidelines of a summit of world leaders in New York, upsetting Palestinian leaders.
Shalom's remarks could cause additional anger because they were just as tough, and because Bolton was present. Bolton did not remark on Shalom's comments, instead focusing on Iran.
The U.S. ambassador said Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons was "one of the two or three gravest threats" to international security.
Shalom thanked Bolton, saying he had made every effort to protect the security of Israel as well as the United States.
"It is very, very important to stop them, and the sooner the better," Shalom said.
It wasn't clear how Shalom's remarks might affect Arab states' stance toward his appeal made earlier Monday, that they open formal relations with his country.
He made that appeal after talks with his Tunisian counterpart, the latest in a string of meetings that have boosted hopes of a new era of cooperation in the Middle East.
Shalom, who held talks with several Arab nations on the sidelines of the UN summit and subsequent annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, also said his nation was willing to negotiate with archenemy Syria if it stops supporting militants.