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Arab world warms ties with Israel

This weekend, Jordan made its highest-level diplomatic trip to Israel in more than four years.

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After four years of getting cold-shouldered by the Arab world, Israel is now basking in some regional warming.

Over the weekend, Jordanian Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulki visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority areas. It was Jordan's highest-level visit in four years. Relations cooled after the start of the intifada in September 2000, when Jordan was angered by Israel's hard-hitting response to the uprising.

Mr. Mulki's visit follows Jordan's reappointment last month of an ambassador to Tel Aviv, after leaving the post vacant for four years.

Egypt, too, has warmed up to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government, deciding last month to send back its own ambassador for the first time in four years.

And far away Tunisia, which shut down its liaison office with Israel after the intifada broke out, has raised eyebrows by inviting Mr. Sharon to Tunis to attend an information-technology conference to be held in November. Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, says he has accepted the invitation.

Analysts say these changes strengthen Israel's diplomatic posture considerably. Meanwhile, the replacement of Saddam Hussein's regime with a democratic government in Iraq, and intensified international pressure on Syria, including demands that it withdraw from Lebanon, has boosted Israel's security.

"There is a desire on the part of some of the Arab countries to embrace Israel in order to try to lock it into the road map, to make sure there is an ongoing peace process leading to a two-state solution," says Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, a Middle East historian at Tel Aviv University.

But observers stress that the warming could be reversed if Israel does not resume final-status peace negotiations with the Palestinians. These negotiations are specified in the international blueprint known as the road map, which calls for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.

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