DOHA, Qatar − Most of the Israelis on the Royal Jordanian flight to Amman were on their way to the Far East. The Muslim Brotherhood is sending out tentacles everywhere and the security services are advising Israelis to avoid Arab countries, but Israelis are not relinquishing the little that remains of the peace with Jordan.
Who remembers that it all began with the vilified Oslo agreement? Who thinks about how it will all end when that agreement, may it rest in peace, receives an official death certificate? And what will we do when Washington, Paris and Berlin host representatives of the Islamist governments of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and subsequently a Hamas government as well?
How will the Americans be able to conduct relations with leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’ mother party, while boycotting its offspring? After all, they have adjusted to the toppling of their traditional Middle Eastern allies and are encouraging political, social and economic reforms in the region. How long will Israel be able to rely on the “Quartet rules” for negotiations with Hamas and expect the world to blindly follow the pied piper from Jerusalem who is leading them astray?
These questions nagged at me during the discussions held this week at the huge convention center in Doha. Qatar was given the honor of hosting the fourth annual conference of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, headed by former president of Portugal Jorge Sampaio. Despite its tense relations with the Israeli government, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry granted entry visas to a group of Israeli peace activists, professors and journalists.
This would not have happened without the approval of Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. The emir encourages Israeli businessmen to invest in his country, which is awash in petroleum (NIS 0.95 for a liter of 95-octane gasoline) but suffers from a shortage of entrepreneurs. If Israel also had a diplomatic initiative, he would be prepared to fling Qatar’s gates wide open.
An editorial in the English-language newspaper Qatar Tribune urged the Gulf states to rethink their joint strategy in light of the political storm sweeping the region. The editorial criticized the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council for tending to react to events after the fact. “They cannot afford such luxury,” exhorted the writer. “They must be proactive, planning for every eventuality.”
These lines could easily be translated into Hebrew with respect to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Both the impoverished West and the increasingly wealthy Gulf states are preparing to deal with the Arab world’s youth revolution. They understand that 2011 will replace the terror attacks of 2001 in the history books. But in Israel, the prime minister is devoting his attention to advancing the Likud’s leadership primary. At a time when Israel’s government is promoting a bill to ban mosques from using loudspeakers to broadcast the call to prayer, in Muslim Qatar, veiled women walk past Christmas trees on their way to the hotel restaurant.
In one corner of the large lobby, I saw a group of young people pinning badges on their shirts that bore maps of greater Palestine (the Land of Israel?) and the inscription “Right of Return.” Among them were two teenage girls from Tunisia, two Yemenite men and an Iranian. I introduced myself as a peace-seeking Israeli Zionist. I wondered what they had to do with a conference devoted to an alliance among civilizations and how their map accorded with the Arab League’s peace proposal, which adopted the 1967 borders.
“That belongs to an earlier time, to [ousted Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak and [ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali,” said one of the girls. “Don’t you know that everything has changed?” Her friends nodded their heads in agreement.
How easy it will be for Muslim extremists to gather these young people around the television screens when Al Jazeera broadcasts footage of Jewish soldiers shooting Arab children in the next intifada. How long will it take until Jordan closes its border with Israel and Egypt locks the gates of its embassy in Tel Aviv? One of these days, we will find ourselves longing for good old Hamas.
In advance of Qatar’s national holiday, which will be celebrated on Sunday, clowns riding on costumed ostriches invaded the busy bazaar. I thought to myself that no creature could be more suited to be named Israel’s national animal.
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