Israel: 'No thanks' to Musharraf offer

Israel has rejected the surprise offer by Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An official in the Prime Minister's Office described the offer as "a little ridiculous," noting that there are no diplomatic relations between Islamabad and Jerusalem. "We have an Arab initiative. Why would we need a Pakistani initiative?" the official asked, adding that mediation efforts would be welcomed from any state that had ties with Israel. Sources in Jerusalem said that although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert welcomed the possibility of dialogue with Saudi Arabia, which also has no diplomatic ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia cannot be compared with Pakistan. Saudi Arabia, together with Egypt, is one of the leaders of the Arab and Muslim world, and is on a different level, as far as Israel is concerned, than Pakistan. A more conciliatory note was sounded by Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev who said Pakistan's involvement would be welcomed, but that Musharraf's effectiveness would likely be limited. In an interview with the pan-Arab Al-Arabya television station, based in Dubai, Musharraf said he would be willing to visit Israel to help bring peace to the Middle East. 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 mediate was accepted. Musharraf said he could also start such 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. "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 would not be solved unless solutions for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were found first, adding that these solutions would have an impact on the Middle East's stability, bringing serenity and stability to the region and beyond. The first public contacts between Pakistan and Israel came in September 2005, after disengagement from Gaza, when then-foreign minister Silvan Shalom held talks in Istanbul with his Pakistani counterpart, Kursheed Kasuri. Shalom expressed a hope the Istanbul talks would mark the beginning of a process that would end with full diplomatic ties between the two countries. There were street protests in Pakistan following the talks. Musharaf defended the contacts but made it clear that Pakistani recognition of Israel would only come after the establishment of a Palestinian state.•