Emir of Qatar tells Peres that Israel must talk to Hamas

By Avi Issacharoff

Haaretz

DOHA - The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, told Vice Premier Shimon Peres on Tuesday that Israel must talk to the ruling Palestinian Hamas movement, adding that peace with the Palestinians would affect Israel's relationship with the entire Arab world.

Peres told the emir in response that it was Hamas who refused to talk to Israel.

The vice premier arrived in Doha on Monday, for his first visit to Qatar since 1996. He is accompanied by a group of Israeli journalists, marking the first time Qatar has permitted Israeli journalists to accompany an official visit to the country.

During the meeting Peres asked the Qatari ruler to continue in his efforts to aid the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

He presented the emir with a plan for an economic corridor between Aqaba and the Yarmuk River, which would include plans for a water canal.

The emir invited Israelis to study in Qatar, to which Peres responded that any Israeli who wanted to would be welcome to do so.

With regard to the Iran, Peres told the emir that Israel did not have a problem with Tehran but with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself.

This problem was shared by the rest of the world, Peres said, adding that Iranians were suffering from poverty and distress and would not be able to feed their children with enriched uranium.

Peres said that the emir told him he was happy to hear that he was running for the presidency.

The Israeli mission in Qatar, which is not considered an official embassy, has continued to operate in Doha in recent years.

The relations between Israel and Qatar are ongoing, despite the tensions between the countries over Doha's close relationship with Tehran, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

In December, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas visited the country, and Qatar promised to grant him millions of dollars in aid in order to allow him to pay teachers' salaries.

The money was ultimately transferred through the Arab League.