You Can Go Home Again
Although the disengagement was probably one of the most wrenching and divisive events in Israel's history, it has brought about a few positive changes in Israel's relations with some countries in the Arab world. Certainly, it can be argued there's a definite downside to the pullout from Gaza and even more so if, as some have predicted, al-Qaeda sets up shop in what used to be a flourishing Jewish community. But, for the moment, I'd like to put that aside (admittedly not an easy thing to do) and focus on what I think is a rather fascinating human interest story.
"Hearty Shalom In Tunisia For Israeli Minister"
New York Post
November 18, 2005
TUNIS, Tunisia - Silvan Shalom, the Israeli foreign minister, was welcomed back in his homeland this week - and that's remarkable because his homeland is Tunisia, the former base of the PLO and a target of long-range Israeli commando raids.
Shalom, born 47 years ago in the Tunisian desert town of Gabes, was attending an international conference this week as a guest of the Tunisians, the first time a senior official has visited this country.
Tunisian officials called it a "historic visit" and their president, Zayen Bin Ali, joked about hosting Shalom. "Well, there are two Tunisian foreign ministers," he said. "Mine and Israel's."
How did this change come about? After all, Yasser Arafat and his gunmen fled to Tunis in 1982 after being besieged by Israeli forces in his Beirut hideout. And that was after Saudi Arabia helped pave the way by giving millions of dollars to Vasilia Bourghuiba, wife of Tunisian President Habib Boughuiba, to get them to accept Arafat as their country's guest.
Shalom says the recent change in Tunisia-Israeli relations is one of the benefits of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last summer.
The United States - which also helped find Arafat his temporary home in Tunisia 23 years ago - is now trying to convince other nations to change their stance with Israel.
"No doubt the [Gaza] disengagement added to the Israeli gains in strengthening relations, officially or unofficially, with Arab and Muslim countries," Shalom told The Post.
The change was underlined when he visited a beautiful section of Tunis, overlooking the Mediterranean.
Members of his security details recalled that Israelis had been there before - in 1988, when a commando team killed Arafat's No. 2 man, Abu Jihad, for masterminding the Palestinian intifada uprising.
After Israel began the peace process with the Oslo Accords more than a decade ago, Arafat left for the West Bank - and the Tunisians were happy to see him leave.
Who knows? Maybe the next such visit to take place will be the one where both the Israeli president and the Israeli defense minister return to their land of their birth...Iran.
No, I'm not holding my breath either.