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THE ISRAEL REPORT

May/June 1999
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Eight States to Upgrade Relations with Palestinians

By BEN LYNFIELD

RAMALLAH (May 3) - Ireland and seven Latin American countries have agreed to the upgrading of Palestinian representations in their countries to embassies, according to Palestinian Authority Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Nabil Shaath.

But his office did not specify when the change would happen. The Irish charge d'affaires in Tel Aviv, Paul Gunning, said last night his country has made no such decision.

Shaath was quoted in the Ramallah-based Al-Ayam daily as specifying that Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico had joined Dublin in moving to upgrade their ties with the Palestinians. "Ireland will be the first European country to take this decision," he was quoted as saying, adding that other European countries will be urged to do likewise.

Shaath's adviser, Mohammed Waheidy, said the eight countries "didn't say when" the upgrading would take place. "A hint, a sign, a positive sign was taken by these countries that they support the Palestinian position of declaring a state soon." Gunning said that Ireland will not change the status of the Palestinian office in Dublin unless it reaches a "common decision" to do so with other European Community states.

"There has been for some time a Palestinian office in Dublin at the level of delegation-general. There has been no decision to change the status of that office," he said.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that, "if it is true that the Palestinians are working to raise the level of their diplomatic relations with a number of countries, then this is nothing but a clear violation of the Oslo agreement, and a matter that requires Israel's immediate serious attention."

The Foreign Ministry said it has ordered its missions in the countries in question to find out what is happening, and stress that such an action, should it be carried out, "completely goes against all agreements, which say that the Palestinians are prohibited from establishing diplomatic relations."

Meanwhile, the PA said yesterday that it wants to open a new chapter in relations with Syria, which has long been at odds with the mainstream Palestinian factions. "The time has come to improve this relationship in order to support common interests," said Tayyeb Abdel Rahim, a senior aide to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Syria may also be interested in a reconciliation, according to Moshe Maoz, a Syria specialist at the Hebrew University. "I have a hunch Assad will not reject this. It would strengthen him vis-a-vis Israel. He wants to settle with Israel, but he wants as much leverage for this as possible." In Cairo yesterday, Arafat conferred with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French Premier Lionel Jospin about the peace process in the face of the upcoming elections.

"We have to wait and see who will lead Israeli diplomacy," Foreign Minister Amr Moussa was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Abdel Rahim also said the PA is interested in improving relations with Iran to defend Islamic holy places. Netanyahu's office said in response that "Arafat's intentions to forge and tighten ties with Iran signals the danger that will arise with the establishment of a Palestinian state, which will bring Iran to our doorstep."

(Danna Harman and Itim contributed to this report.)

©The Jerusalem Post


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