livni sits 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will attend a UN conference Sunday in Doha, Qatar, her adviser said Wednesday.
The trip it will be the highest-ranking visit by an Israeli official to the Gulf State since Shimon Peres opened up the Israeli trade office in Doha when he was prime minister in 1996.
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The visit would come as Israeli leaders are speaking increasingly of heightened cooperation with moderate Arab regimes in the region as a brake on Shi'ite extremism.
Representatives of some 192 countries are expected to attend the conference, called the Sixth International Conference on New or Restored Democracies, from October 29 to November 1 in Doha.
According to the conference's Web site, participants will discuss issues related to democracy, political reform, effective governance, the role of democracy in development and combating poverty, as well as freedom of speech.
The invitation to Livni came from the UN, according to Israeli officials, and not from the Qataris. Nevertheless, if Livni did make the trip, she would likely meet with the Qatari leadership, as well as other regional players.
The last public trip by a foreign minister to an Arab country other than Egypt and Jordan, with which Israel has full diplomatic ties, was when Silvan Shalom attended a UN conference in Tunisia in 2005. Then, too, he used the UN invitation to hold high-level talks with the local leadership.
Livni has spoken by phone on a number of occasions with her Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasem Bin Jaber al-Thani.
Although Israel and Qatar do not have formal diplomatic ties, Israel still maintains a small economic interest section in Doha that the Qataris kept open even during the height of Palestinian violence.
The Qataris also have good relations with both Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who lived there in the 1950s, and with Hamas head Khaled Mashaal, who went there after being kicked out of Jordan in 1999.
Qatar has been involved in trying to bring about the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit since he was abducted on June 25.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, on his way back from Russia Thursday night, told reporters that while the Qatari foreign minister's positions were quite distant from Israel's on the Middle East issues, even the Qataris have come to the conclusion after dealing with the Shalit issue that Hamas was a group of "liars" and "cheats."
Qatar currently has a strong standing in the Arab world by virtue of the fact that it is the only Arab member of the UN Security Council. They also have a long-standing political rivalry with the Saudis and often try to chart an independent political path from Saudi Arabia to assert their independence.
The last high-ranking Israeli official to visit Qatar was then-Deputy Education Minister Michael Melchior, who visited in February 2005 to tour educational institutions and participate in a public debate on the future of Middle East peace.