Copyright 2003 British Broadcasting Corporation  
BBC Monitoring Middle East - Political
Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring

September 2, 2003, Tuesday

LENGTH: 1011 words

HEADLINE: Israeli foreign minister praises "very good meeting" with Moroccan king

SOURCE: Voice of Israel, Jerusalem, in Hebrew 1405 gmt 2 Sep 03

Israeli Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has said that his meeting with Moroccan King Mohammed VI went very well and that he expected positive results on future ties.
Morocco also sought an active role in mediation with the Palestinians, he said. Israel's standing in the Arab world had never been better, Shalom added, citing meetings in recent months with Arab leaders. The following is the text of a telephone interview with Shalom, in Rabat, by Qobi Barqay in the studio, broadcast live by Israel radio on 2 September; subheadings inserted editorially:

Barqay Silvan Shalom, the deputy prime minister and foreign minister, is on the line from
Morocco. Good evening sir.

Shalom Good evening.

Barqay Why did your meeting go on for longer than planned?

Shalom In my opinion, we had a very good meeting. We discussed a wide range of issues. Undoubtedly, the Moroccan government is worthy of all praise for hosting our visit here; however, more than anything else this indicates Morocco's interest in renewing ties with Israel and its desire to be an active partner in the peace process. I think that this meeting will greatly encourage additional Arab leaders to follow in the footsteps of King Mohamed VI and establish open relations with the State of Israel.

Barqay When you say open relations, sir, are you referring to the resumption of diplomatic relations as well as enabling Israeli citizens to resume their visits to
Morocco en masse?

Shalom These issues obviously came up in our discussion. The king and his government showed a positive attitude regarding these issues. Clearly, these issues will be discussed at the level of the professional teams, and I very much hope that we are moving towards a new track. Our visit here is being fully covered by the local media as well as by the entire Arab media. This visit also comes against the background of
Morocco's strong desire to assume an active role in the contacts between us and the Palestinians. They raised a number of ideas regarding these issues, and let me tell you that they said that they are not doing this in order to be re-elected to some institution. They are doing it because they believe that the time has come to end the prolonged conflict between us and the Palestinians. They believe that in view of their good relations with both the Israeli and Palestinian side, they have the possibility of pursuing this issue.

As for the issue of Jews visiting
Morocco, they will clearly welcome such visits. They expressed great interest in Israelis coming to visit Morocco. It goes without saying that they mentioned the strong links between the king and the Jews living here in Morocco, which in their view constitute long-standing ties stretching back hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years to the very roots of history.

Moroccan Jewish community

Barqay Did you really feel that the reigning king Mohamed VI, wishes to continue the traditionally close relations with the Jewish community that his father, Mohamed V, maintained? Does Mohamed VI wish to continue serving like his father as the head of the Jerusalem Committee and assume greater involvement in the conflict between us and the Palestinians?

Shalom Yes, Mohamed VI, who is actually the grandson of Mohamed V and the son of Hasan II, indeed considers this a very important issue. He most admirably stressed his desire for the Jewish community to be involved and active. He emphasized the tremendous importance of the Jewish community in the course of
Morocco's history as well as its current contribution. He spoke about the need to maintain, tighten and preserve these ties in future. I would like to say that I emerged from this meeting greatly encouraged.

I believe that Israel's standing in the Arab world today is stronger than ever before. In the last two or three months, there has been a long series of meetings between Arab and Israeli leaders. The prime minister has held such meetings, and I myself have met with the Jordanian king, the Bahraini crown prince, as well as foreign ministers from
Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt. The attitude today is that one has to hold direct contacts with Israel. There is an understanding that the decision taken three years ago to close the diplomatic representation, which may have been unavoidable as far as they were concerned following the outbreak of the intifadah, was word indistinct and should be word indistinct . Undoubtedly, today's visit constitutes an important step towards resuming the good and normal relations between our two countries.

Reaction to Or Report

Barqay I would like to ask you something else in conclusion, Mr Foreign Minister, and these two issues are interrelated since you just mentioned the severing of relations three years following the outbreak of the riots and the intifadah. Now you are talking about a rapprochement with the Arab world, whereas yesterday, we in Israel - following the publication of the Or Report - learnt that the authors of this report discovered a large rift between the Israeli Arabs and the Israelis. We still haven't heard you comment on the Or report that was published yesterday and we would be glad to hear you reaction.

Shalom Listen, I can't say that I have read the report. Since I am not in the country I could only read some of the newspaper reports on it. In principle, I believe that the Israeli Arabs primarily view themselves as Israeli citizens. Throughout all the years, they have adopted moderate positions. To my great regret, for a long time already their leadership has adopted far more extreme positions than the Israeli Arabs themselves. Having held contacts with Israeli Arabs, I can tell you that most of them would like to live peacefully in the State of Israel and would like to see us reach a peaceful resolution of our conflict with the Palestinians and the Arab world. I can only hope that in future, the Israeli Arabs will indeed serve as the bridge between us and the Palestinians.