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Analysts Say Israel and Pakistan Have a Lot to Gain from Improved Relations

Largely as a result of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met the warmest reception at the United Nations in decades, most notably from Muslim states. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told the General Assembly that the “Iron Curtain that has defined Israel’s relations with most of the Arab and Muslim world for generations is coming down.”

Political analysts point to several encouraging developments in Israel’s relations with the Muslim world and specifically with Pakistan. The foreign ministers of Israel and Pakistan met in Turkey a month ago. And in mid-September, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf shook hands during the meetings of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Nathan Guttman, Washington correspondent with the Jerusalem Post, said those two events, plus General Musharraf’s speech to a large group of Jewish-American leaders in New York, represent a significant diplomatic development. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Guttman said these moves are Pakistani attempts to get closer to the United States - through Israel. He indicated they might be part of a regional trend toward improved relations that include Indonesia, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, and Jordan. Nathan Guttman said that some Muslim leaders view Israel’s pullout from Gaza, even though it was a unilateral step, as a “breakthrough” towards a future peace process. And he believes it helps all Muslim and Arab countries “warm up to Israel.” However, he noted that Gaza is not yet a “quiet” place and that, even though there are “winds of peace,” the disengagement is very fragile.

However, Pakistani journalist Husain Haqqani noted that, although the Pakistani government and the Israelis are engaged in a process of trying to establish full relations, General Musharraf has made it clear that prospect is “not around the corner.” Mr. Haqqani believes Pakistan’s motives are primarily aimed at impressing supporters of Israel in the United States that Pakistan is a reliable U.S. ally. And he stressed that Pakistan has made clear that full diplomatic relations are possible only after the creation of a Palestinian state. Another major consideration, Mr. Haqqani noted, is Islamabad’s long-standing competition with New Delhi. Israel is a major arms supplier to India. Mr. Haqqani said Pakistan’s security establishment hopes to drive a wedge between India and Israel, although he thinks that is probably unrealistic.

Furthermore, Mr. Haqqani said General Musharraf is facing several important domestic considerations. Although a thaw in Israeli-Pakistani relations is popular with the political “realists” like himself, it is unpopular with the Islamists. Nathan Guttman of the Jerusalem Post agrees that both nations have a lot to gain from improved relations, wherever it ultimately leads.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.