Monday, September 8, 2003

A staunch pro-Israeli lobby in the United States has approached Islamist groups in North America in an attempt to neutralize their opposition to the state of Israel.

In a recent letter to an Islamic organization dominated by Muslims from Pakistan and India, the American Jewish Congress offers friendship with all Muslims and security for Islamic holy sites in Israel if they stop opposing the Jewish state.

“We are most interested in the careful pursuit of possible areas of agreement and common ground — not because we think agreement will be easy to achieve but because continued tensions and hostility threaten both communities,” says the letter sent to the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).

The Jewish group also sent a similar message to the leaders of the Islamic Society of North America, which held its annual convention over the Labor Day weekend.

The message is aimed particularly at Pakistan after indications that the Muslim state of more than 140 million people is considering the idea of granting diplomatic recognition to Israel.

During a visit to Washington in late June, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told reporters that “recognizing Israel will not bring down the skies. If the Arabs are recognizing it, we also ought to reconsider our policies towards Israel.”

The statement — which many saw as a feeler issued to gauge its effect on the Pakistani nation — caused an uproar among the Islamic forces in Pakistan. But a lack of reaction among ordinary Pakistanis encouraged pro-Israeli lobbies that Pakistan can be persuaded to recognize Israel.

Diplomatic sources in Washington say that prominent Jewish leaders in the United States met secretly with Gen. Musharraf when he was visiting his son in Boston in June and praised him for showing interest in recognizing Israel.

Officially, Pakistan denies any contact with Jewish leaders but diplomatic sources insist there has been some official contact between Israel and Pakistan at lower levels.

They point out that contact between Pakistan and Israel is not new, and say several Israeli military advisers visited Pakistan during the 1979-89 Afghan war when Gen. Zia ul-Haq, himself a devout Muslim, was ruling Pakistan.

The ICNA is dominated by those once associated with Jamaat-e-Islami. Better known as the Jamaat, the group is the main Islamist organization in Pakistan.

It has contributed greatly to the development of the modern Islamist ideology and is respected by Islamic activists around the world. It also maintains close links with other Islamist groups in the Middle East, Turkey, Europe and North America.

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