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Druse MK - Self-Appointed Ambassador to Arab World? Print E-mail

By Brenda Gazzar
March 22, 2009

ImageIn recent weeks, Likud MK Ayoub Kara has visited Syrian officials in Washington, met with Egyptian officials in Israel and is considering an invitation to visit Amman from a Jordanian official.

The Druse lawmaker boasts that he is in contact with officials throughout the Arab world, from Mauritania, which recently cut ties with Israel, to Morocco, Qatar, Algeria and even Lebanon.

"They know my ideas," Kara said over the weekend. "They know I'm more Zionist than all the Jews and that I love the Jewish people more than they love themselves, but they respect me because of the way I act, my trustworthiness and my influence on the Israeli street."

Kara made headlines in Israel when he announced that he visited Syrian officials from the ruling Alawite sect in Washington last month, although he has been reluctant to provide details about whom precisely he met.

He told The Jerusalem Post that it was someone "at the level of an ambassador."

"I told them that we want to sit down and talk," he said. "They said they were interested in the process of peace. I told them that I would pass on the message to the responsible party."

Kara made headlines again this week when Haaretz quoted him as saying Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda had told him that prime minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu would be invited to Egypt once he formed a government.

He also said Egypt was willing to forgive past controversial statements made by Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman.

In a rare move, however, the ambassador issued a statement strongly denying the remarks.

Kara says he often acts alone or is approached by Arab officials who seek contact with him. Netanyahu's office, too, has said that it did not send Kara to speak to Syrian officials in Washington.

"I'm a leader in Israel and I don't need permission to act" for the sake of Israel, Kara said. "I sit in meetings with Netanyahu, I speak to Netanyahu about what is appropriate for Israel and I will do what is good for Israel... This is why I'm in a position of power. I don't act based only on what people tell me."

He added that he does get guidance and instruction on what to say and do in particular circumstances.

But some are skeptical regarding Kara's potential to influence foreign policy decisions.

"There are many self-appointed liaisons who are not perceived seriously on the other side, in the Arab world," said a senior Knesset member, who asked not to be identified. "Netanyahu, we know, will have his open people, like Yitzhak Molcho, who used to be his closest confidant and liaison regarding Arafat and the Palestinians at large."

Another source, a member of Netanyahu's foreign policy circle, said he had never seen Kara at a foreign policy meeting, "which could mean one of two things: one, that he has less influence, or two, that everything is from one-on-one meetings with Netanyahu. I don't know which."

Kara said he wanted to help Netanyahu to be seen "as a man of peace," and not as he is often represented in the Arab world, "as a right-wing extremist."

"[Netanyahu] has said that he really wants to advance areas related to the Arab population and the Arab world," Kara said, adding that both he and the Likud chairman were also quite concerned about extremism among some Israeli Arabs.

In recent interviews, the 53-year-old father of six from Daliat al-Carmel sounds a bit like he is campaigning. And, in a way, he is. Kara, who is beginning his third term in the Knesset, hopes to win a minister's portfolio from Netanyahu.

Kara, who was a major in the army and lost two brothers in battle, said he had asked for the Transportation portfolio, since the Arab sector suffered from poor roads and infrastructure.

Perhaps, he said, he could advance coexistence between Arabs and Jews in Israel. The Druse community could serve as a bridge for coexistence since they understand the Arab language and mentality, he said.

"We are considered Israelis and as people who are concerned about the security of Israel, and we will continue [to do so]," he said. "Our problem is that we are concerned about security, [and] sit in the highest positions in the army, but at the table of the government, they forget that we exist in this country. This causes a lot of frustration among the youth."

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