The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz quoted unnamed 'diplomatic sources' as saying that UAE officials had agreed in principle to allow Israel to open a diplomatic office in Abu Dhabi which would represent Israeli interests in the Gulf country.

The office reportedly will not be a ''full diplomatic representation'' but rather a centre similar to the ones which existed in Bahrain, Qatar and Oman.

The paper said UAE officials agreed to a ''quiet presence'' of Israeli diplomats on site but would officially relate to the office as it would to a foreign company.

Israel has been seeking to utilise the government approval of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan for the purpose of making diplomatic inroads in some Arab and Muslim countries, including Gulf and North African states and Sudan.

The UAE's information ministry refused to comment on the reports.

Palestinians outraged

Palestinian Authority officials contacted by Aljazeera.net reacted angrily to the report, saying Arab and Muslim countries should not reward Israel for killing Palestinians and destroying their homes.

PA officials say Arab states
should not reward Israel

''I don't believe the UAE would allow Israel to open a diplomatic office in Abu Dhabi at a time when the Zionists continue unabated to slaughter Palestinians and destroy their homes and narrow their horizons,'' said Abd Allah Abd Allah, the Palestinian Authority deputy foreign minister.

He pointed out that the PA was making contacts with Abu Dhabi in order to expose "this Israeli lie".

"We know Shaikh Zaid [the UAE president] will not be bamboozled by the Israelis. We also know that his commitment to the Palestinian cause is firm."

More to the point, the Palestinian officials warned Arab and Muslim states against falling prey to Israeli propaganda regarding the so-called disengagement plan.

"I would like to tell our Arab and Muslim brothers that Israel continues to assassinate Palestinians, destroy their homes, uproot their trees, confiscate their land and narrow their horizons on a daily basis.

"So, don't be deceived by them and, instead of listening to their sweet-sounding words about their desire for peace, look at what they are doing in Gaza and the West Bank. For God's sake, don't reward them for their genocide against us," said Yaqub Shahin, a director-general of the PA ministry of information.

Normalising relations

He told Aljazeera.net: "Those Arab regimes which agree to normalise relations with Israel at this time are effectively betraying the Palestinian people.

"We have an Arab saying: 'If you feel no shame, do as you like.' This applies to those Arabs and Muslims who are willing to host Israeli diplomats while Israeli army bulldozers continue to destroy our homes in Rafah and Khan Yunis."

"Don't be deceived by them, instead of listening to their sweet-sounding words about their desire for peace, look at what they are doing in Gaza and the West Bank. For God's sake, don't reward them for their genocide against us"

Yaqub Shahin,
PA ministry of information

The Israeli government is seemingly comfortable with the positive regional and international reactions to the proposed plan for the withdrawal from Gaza, but is quite oblivious to demands that the plan be an integral part of the US-backed roadmap for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The PA, Egypt and EU are particularly worried that Israel may be planning to expedite land confiscation in the West Bank to make up for the Gaza withdrawal.

Israel of late has accelerated the construction of its barrier in the central West Bank, resulting in the seizure of large swathes of Palestinian farms, orchards and fields.

Moreover, Israel continues to carry out almost daily incursions and attacks against Palestinian population centres despite a relative calm in the security situation.