Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday politely turned down an offer by Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf to serve as a go-between Israel and the Palestinians.
Speaking in a radio interview, Olmert said he preferred to maintain direct contacts with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and not depend on an intermediary.
"We don't need someone to come from afar in order for me and Abu Mazen to meet," Olmert said, calling Abbas by his widely-used nom de guerre.
Musharraf made the surprise offer Friday in an interview with the Arab satellite station Al-Arabiya. He told the Dubai-based station that he would even be willing to visit Israel to help bring peace to the Middle East.
Israel on Saturday gave a cautious welcome to the offer, saying it was doubtful the Pakistani leader could make much progress.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Pakistan's involvement would be welcomed, but said Musharraf's effectiveness would likely be limited.
In the interview aired late Friday, Musharraf said he was enthusiastic to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and would go to Israel if his offer to be involved in a mediation process was accepted.
Musharraf said he could also start his talks first with the Palestinians, "or maybe in some third country ... going to Israel is also a possibility."
"It will be an honor, if I can contribute in any way," said Musharraf, although he has so far not been asked to mediate. "If there was a role that I can play, and both sides accept that role, yes, indeed, I would like to play that role."
The Pakistani leader suggested that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will not be solved unless solutions for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are found first, adding that these solutions would have an impact on the stability of the Mideast, and will also bring serenity and stability throughout the region and beyond.
Pakistan has not been yet involved in any negotiations on the Arab region, but hosted talks in late February in Islamabad, attended by Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, on issues ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to the war in Iraq and the standoff with Iran.
In September 2005, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri met with then Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in Istanbul in the first publicly acknowledged high-level contact between the predominantly Muslim nation and Israel.
Musharraf had defended his government's talks with Israel, saying contact between the two countries is in accordance with the tenets of Islam. Musharraf said Islam allowed its followers to engage with people of other faiths.
"Islam is a religion of peace and it has lived in peace and harmony with other faiths for centuries and can do so in future as well," an official statement quoted him as saying while speaking to Kasuri.
Musharraf reiterated Pakistan would not recognize Israel until a Palestinian state was established.
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