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Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 20:25 | SYDNEY
Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 20:25 | SYDNEY

Guess who's coming to the Forum?

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15 April 2008 17:04

Guest blogger: Melissa George, an intern with the Lowy Institute's West Asia Program who previously worked for the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, Ramallah and the UNDP, Jerusalem.  

The attendance of Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni at this year’s Doha Forum has made headlines across the Arab world and led to the withdrawal of senior Lebanese and Iranian participants. Livni is only the second high-level Israeli official to visit Qatar in recent years (Shimon Peres opened the Israeli mission there in 1996 and made a short visit again as vice premier in 2007). Israel’s decision to participate in this year’s forum is particularly noteworthy given Livni’s refusal to attend the Doha conference on account of Hamas’s attendance in 2006. While in Qatar, she is also expected to hold talks with her Omani counterpart, which will also be a first since 2000.

While Israel’s relationship with Qatar has come under criticism in recent days, its presence in Doha is in keeping with Israel’s push for greater regional engagement. Its participation at the Forum may also mark the beginning of a new development in Arab-Israeli relations.

At a time when Iran’s nuclear drive is on everyone’s radar, Israel may well be pushing for the creation of a political alliance with 'moderate' Arab countries in order to isolate regional threats (namely Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizbullah). Livni told Qatar’s Al-Watan newspaper that she is looking to 'generate the common understanding that Israel and Islamic countries in the region face a common threat'. Qatar — which supports the headquarters of US Central Command and maintains relations with both Israel and Iran — undoubtedly used the invitation as a means to reaffirm its position as a regional peace broker building on its public offer in February to negotiate a cease fire between Israel and Hamas. However, without resolution of the Palestinian issue, prospects for mediation and meaningful engagement at Doha look unlikely, with Livni's visit more about symbolism than substance.

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