Israel has been reaping diplomatic benefits since it began its now-completed withdrawal weeks ago.

Qatar, Pakistan and Indonesia have held high-level public meetings with Israeli officials.

On Friday, the king of Jordan, which has a peace treaty with Israel, met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the sidelines of a UN world summit.

Qatar's foreign minister made a call on Wednesday for Arab nations to reciprocate Israel's Gaza withdrawal with greater peace steps.

The call met strong opposition from many Arabs who rejected any rapprochement with Israel as long as it is occupying Palestinian and Syrian land.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss called for an Arab League meeting to take measures to "check this sweeping, ominous tide".

Forgetting a cause

"I wonder how they can undertake such a step, forgetting a cause they espoused for more than half a century ... under the pretext of rewarding the Zionist enemy for withdrawing from Gaza," al-Hoss said in a statement.

After "Israeli aggression, we do not see a real Arab response," mourned Ahmad Haj Ali, a Syrian analyst.

"Instead, we are surprised to see acceptance and the promotion of Israeli positions."

But Qatar's overt gestures may be part of a growing momentum to improve ties with Israel.

"I wonder how they can undertake such a step, forgetting a cause they espoused for more than half a century ... under the pretext of rewarding the Zionist enemy for withdrawing from Gaza"

Salim al-Hoss,
Former Lebanese Prime Minister

Hazim Saghiah, a senior Lebanese columnist with the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, said "most Arab countries, if they can be sure that public reaction can be controlled, would do what Qatar is doing," he said, speaking from London.

"Some countries who are against this may take a different stand when their turn comes - and have justifications ready for their actions," he added.

At an Arab summit in March, Jordan proposed normalising relations with Israel before it makes any concessions on Arab land - a major change to the current policy of promising normalisation only after a full peace.

Existing ties

Arab leaders quickly rejected the idea, but there were reports that several countries - particularly Morocco, Qatar and Oman - were considering moving ahead with ties anyway.

Qatar, an energy-rich Gulf nation of less than a million, has taken the lead.

In 1996, it established trade relations with Israel, opening an Israeli trade office in Doha a year after Oman opened a trade office in Tel Aviv.

Oman closed the office in 1997.

After the second intifada (uprising) began in 2000, Qatar said it was shutting down the Israeli trade office. But the decision was not implemented.