A Shameful Rejection

The risk that a few tons of concrete might bolster Hamas' military power does not outweigh the huge gains Israel would make by restoring ties with Qatar.

Qatar has offered twice this year to restore diplomatic relations with Israel, which were severed during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and Israel has turned the Gulf country down both times.

Considering the state of Israel's relations with the world, especially with Arab states, one may wonder whether this decision is not deranged somewhat. Isn't Israel the one chasing any display of normalization with the Arab states? How, then, is it possible that when a proposal for open, normalized ties is laid on its doorstep, Israel rejects it as though this were a shameful deal?

As Barak Ravid reported in Haaretz on Tuesday, Qatar set conditions for renewing ties with Israel. It demanded that Israel let the emirate send building materials and money to Gaza to rehabilitate the infrastructure there, in exchange for reinstating the Israeli mission in Doha. Basically, this is a quid pro quo: Israel would agree to partially lift the blockade of Gaza, for the benefit of Qatar and Gaza residents, while Qatar ends the boycott on Israel.

The Israeli rejection was explained, as expected, with "security reasons": Hamas might use cement and building materials to build fortifications and positions from which to fire missiles at Israel. Also, Israel didn't want to be involved in the competition between Qatar and Egypt over the mediation "monopoly" in the Middle East and allow Qatar, which has tightened its ties with Iran and Syria, to score points in Gaza.

These are not insignificant arguments. But the danger that a few tons of concrete bolster Hamas' military power or damage Egypt's status is not equivalent to the huge diplomatic gains Israel stands to make by restoring relations with Qatar. It is very important that a state maintaining close ties with Iran and Syria is prepared to renew relations with Israel.

Israel, which measures its success in Operation Cast Lead in the number of missiles fired at it from Gaza, cannot afford to ignore the damage it has incurred on the diplomatic front. When an Arab state is willing to help rebuild Gaza, and in so doing contribute to rehabilitating Israel's status in the world, it doesn't take much to understand the importance of the opportunity.