Arab overtures on the rise toward Israel and US Jews

Saudi Arabia leading slew of diplomatic gestures by Mideast countries aimed at countering Iranian influence and regional violence.

saudi al-faisal 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
saudi al-faisal 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
With Iranian threats and the violence in Iraq and Lebanon endangering Mideast stability, Arab nations have begun reaching out publicly to Israel and US Jews. According to a USA Today report published Monday, Saudi Arabia has been at the forefront of Arab overtures toward American Jewish groups, and efforts to stabilize the volatile Israel-Palestinian conflict. Last month, Saudi Arabia's outgoing ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, made an appearance at a Capitol Hill reception condemning anti-Semitism. Jewish officials hosting the function also noted the presence of the ambassadors of Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, and a lower-level official from the Egyptian Embassy. At the reception, Saudi diplomatic official Jamal Khashoggi roundly condemned the Holocaust and emphasized the importance of combating Holocaust denial. William Daroff, Washington office director for the United Jewish Communities - one of the reception's organizers - called the Saudi presence at such an event "unprecedented." Saudi Arabia is joined in these unprecedented overtures by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, who have also increased their diplomatic involvement with Israel and its US Jewish backers. The Bush administration has praised these gestures, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressing optimism for the moderate alliance of the Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan and Israel against Iranian- and Syrian-backed extremists. According to Judith Kipper, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, "What really concerns pro-US Arab states is that Iran is setting the political agenda in the region." Considering that the region's Arab nations have shunned the "Zionist entity" for decades, the latest gestures are surprising in their publicity. Aside from the Saudi overtures toward Jewish groups, a series of high-level diplomatic meetings have taken place with other Arab countries in the last few months. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Saudi National Security Adviser Bandar bin Sultan in September - an event that former Israeli ambassador to Washington Danny Ayalon called the highest-level Saudi-Israeli meeting he knew of. In January, Vice Premier Shimon Peres met the emir of Qatar. The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, has invited representatives of the pro-Israel Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to visit the country. Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.