x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Israelis try Twitter to foster GCC dialogue

Israel launches virtual embassy, with its foreign ministry saying, 'you have to start somewhere', even though the two sides have no formal diplomatic relations. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

RAMALLAH // Israel said yesterday the Twitter account it created to reach out to GCC countries would help to foster dialogue, even though the two sides have no formal diplomatic relations.

Launched last week by the Israeli foreign ministry, the account is called "Israel in the GCC". It is described as a "virtual embassy" to the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

GCC states ban formal trade with Israel, as well as general travel of their citizens there, because of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the unresolved status of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and in refugee camps in the region.

Informal trade and low-level diplomatic contacts between Israel and Arabian Gulf countries have existed for years.

Yigal Palmor, a spokesman at Israel's foreign ministry, said he hoped the Twitter account would foster new ways to "benefit both sides in terms of cooperation and exchanges".

"Of course we recognise the political circumstances prevailing in this part of the region and other parts of it, and that will not be an easy task to resolve, but you have to start somewhere and show your goodwill," he said.

Israel in the GCC is run by Yoram Morad, the foreign ministry's director of digital diplomacy and a Jewish Israeli whose ancestors came from Iraq, Mr Palmor said. The account is part of Israel's campaign to initiate contacts with residents of Arab and Muslim countries - which generally do not recognise Israel - using Twitter, Facebook and other social-media websites.

The launch of the account also coincided with an announcement last week by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, of a tentative breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been deadlocked for three years.

Though he said Israel's GCC Twitter page was not related to Mr Kerry's efforts, Mr Palmor called the timing of the account's launch serendipity in terms of helping to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The Arab League, to which GCC states belong, has given its backing to Mr Kerry's peacemaking efforts and in April revived its 11-year-old offer of normal relations with Israel in return for its withdrawal from the territories captured during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The 22-member bloc also sweetened the offer by agreeing to let Israel keep some Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory in exchange for relinquishing equal amounts of its own land to a Palestinian state, which is hoped to be built on the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

When the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was still in a relatively optimist phase in the 1990s, Oman and Qatar established trade and tentative diplomatic relations with Israel. But Muscat severed those ties because of the Palestinian uprising in 2000, and Doha closed an Israeli trade mission in 2009 in retaliation for Israel's three-week assault on Gaza that began in December 2008.

Some Israeli businessmen travel through the UAE on foreign passports and also conduct business there, but tensions between the countries flared after a Hamas official was assassinated in 2010 in a Dubai hotel room by suspected Mossad agents.

The GCC consists of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain

hnaylor@thenational.ae

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