Rabin stops in Morocco, meets with King Hassan One Israeli sees 'new Middle East'

September 15, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- Israel is moving quickly to collect the fruits of its accord with Palestinians, hoping the harvest will include diplomatic relations with the rest of the Arab world.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin made a surprise detour to Morocco yesterday as he returned from Washington, publicly courting King Hassan II to try to break the Arab refusal to formally recognize Israel.

The agreement signed with Jordan in Washington yesterday and the stop in Morocco were steps toward that goal. In Jerusalem, state television raised the possibility of new relations with Tunisia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and several African states. Israel's Foreign Ministry set up five special teams last week to deal with the influx of inquiries.

A mainstay of Israel's goals since its creation in 1948 has been to achieve recognition in the Arab world. Only Egypt, after the Camp David accords of 1979, has broken ranks with the official Arab refusal to accept the existence of Israel.

"After the breakthrough with the PLO, an opening has been created for a change in relations with Israel on the part of additional Arab states," Mr. Rabin told reporters on the plane from Washington to Rabat, capital of Morocco.

But, he cautioned, "this will not come in one jump. We'll have to work on it."

In fact, there was no announcement of diplomatic recognition from King Hassan yesterday despite speculation in Israel that this was the purpose of Mr. Rabin's stop. He and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres stayed the afternoon at the king's seaside resort, and the benefit was in the symbolism of the meeting.

The scene of the Israeli leaders being feted in an Arab capital was yet another startling event for Israelis who are trying to absorb a succession of changes in the last two weeks.

"I think there is reason to believe there will be more openings soon, all over the world," said Uriel Palti, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.

"I certainly see a new Middle East," said Police Minister Moshe Shahal. "Maybe in a few years we shall deal with the problems of the environment instead of dealing with questions of war and peace."

Dore Gold, an analyst at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, said Mr. Rabin must help end his country's isolation to convince Israelis that the pact with Palestine Liberation Organization is valuable.

"I think what's important for the Rabin government is to show the move to concession to the PLO can be rewarded by improved relationships," he said yesterday.

The pact must bring other advantages, because it is not likely to end violence. Yesterday, a Palestinian strapped explosives to his body and walked into the courtyard of an Israeli police station in the Gaza Strip before blowing himself up.

No others were injured, but it was the second attempted suicide attack this week. Another Palestinian in Gaza City was killed yesterday after he stabbed a soldier, army sources said.

Israelis discouraged by the continued violence will see a benefit in the agreement if open relations with its Arab neighbors creates a boom of business opportunities that improve the economy, Mr. Gold noted.

Just as important are the expanded psychological borders that could come if Israelis can travel -- for the first time -- to neighboring countries such as Jordan and Syria, he said.

"Israelis are about to see their country reduced again" by the return of areas to Palestinian control, he said. "But if now you can suddenly drive to Amman or Damascus, you don't feel so isolated."

But negotiations with Syria seem stalled for the moment, which could delay improved relations with other Arab countries, said Moshe Maoz, head of the Truman Institute of Hebrew University.

"Syria is still an obstacle. A number of Arab countries will wait for a settlement of the Syrian question," he said.

Israel already has come far in emerging from international isolation. The breakup of the Soviet Union so quickly added the number of Israeli embassies that Mr. Palti acknowledged he has lost count.

"It's something between 120 and 130 countries" out of 182 in the United Nations, he said. Israel's foreign service is running short of people to put in embassies, he said.

"Not so long ago, we were eager to open an embassy wherever we could, from the Soviet Union to the Fiji Islands," he said. "But now we don't have the manpower."

While recognition elsewhere in the world still is important, it is the Arab states that are the key to significant changes in Israeli life, he said.

"We were isolated for years," said Mr. Palti. "One of the real struggles was for international recognition. The most important recognition is with our own neighbors."

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