Tunisia Rules Out Normalization of Ties with Israel

April 1, 2012  

The head of Tunisia’s governing Islamist party, Ennahada, said on Sunday the country cannot normalize ties with Israel.

According to a report in the official TAP news agency, Rached Ghannouchi said that “Tunisians’ problem is with Zionism, not with Judaism,” stressing that “the president of Ennahda stressed … there can be no normalization with Israel.”

According to TAP, Ghannouchi told a ceremony on Saturday in the northwestern town of Beja that the only way for Palestinians to reclaim their land now occupied by Israel is through “the victory of democratic regimes in the Arab World.”

He added that Tunisia’s former leader Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who was toppled in a revolution that started the Arab Spring last year, was “a collaborator with the Zionists.”

According to Ghannouchi, Ben Ali “betrayed the Palestinian cause,” TAP quoted him as saying.

AFP noted in a report on Sunday that after several years of warming ties, the Israeli and Tunisian authorities opened interest sections in each other’s countries in 1996, but Tunis broke off all relations with Israel in 2000.

The once-banned Ennahda party received 89 out of 217 seats, more than triple the seats won by any other party, in Tunisia’s first democratic election last October.

In recent weeks, Tunisia has witnessed competing protests by secularists and Islamists over the role of Islamic law in the new Constitution.

However, the Ennahda Party said last week that Islamic law will not be enshrined in the country’s new Constitution.

Tunisia’s president, Moncef Marzouki, recently called on the country’s Jewish population to return to his country, saying Tunisia’s Jews are full-fledged citizens and those who had left the country were welcome to return.

Today, Tunisia has a Jewish population of only 1,500, but in the 1960s there were 100,000 Jews in the country. Most left following the 1967 Six Day War, but the emigration to Israel started in the 1050’s.

Most Tunisian Jews now live on the resort island of Djerba, near the country’s border with Libya, once called the Island of Cohanim because so many Jewish families who could trace their lineage to Moses’ brother Aaron, the first High Priest lived there. A 2000 year old synagogue, the El Ghriba, is one of the oldest in the world, and located on the island.

After winning the elections, Ennahda party also said it welcomed Jews in Tunisia, saying that “Tunisia remains, today and tomorrow, a democratic state that respects its citizens and looks after them regardless of their religion…. Members of the Jewish community in Tunisia are citizens enjoying all their rights and responsibilities.”

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