Do the Gaddafis hope to take refuge in Israel?

As Hosni Mubarak approaches the end of his life inside a prison cell in Egypt, he might be having second thoughts about his decision to turn down an offer of asylum that came from Israel a few months ago.

The idea that Israel has some affection for Arab tyrants might have something to do with a story about the Gaddafis that now emerges from an interesting source.

The Associated Press reports:

An Austrian politician says one of Muammar Gadhafi’s sons told him Libya was ready to sign a peace treaty with Israel once the fighting in his country ended.

David Lasar also said Thursday that Seif al-Islam, Gadhafi’s longtime heir apparent, also told him he was ready to act as a middleman to secure the release of an Israel soldier held for more than four years by Hamas, the Palestinian faction controlling Gaza.

Lasar, a Vienna municipal political with the rightist Freedom Party, was in Libya last month on a trip coordinated between his party and Ayoub Kara, an Israeli deputy minister.

Lasar is Jewish, while Kara is a Druze, and both occasionally assume positions and take on missions that are unusual for their government or party.

In July, Der Spiegel reported on the growing ties between the far right in Israel and the far right in Europe — in spite of the latter’s long history of antisemitism.

The partners that the European right-wing has sought out in Israel are, perhaps not surprisingly, well to the right of center. Kara himself, a member of the minority Druze religious community who enjoys close ties with Netanyahu, opposed the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and is a loyal supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Gershon Mesika, a settler leader in the West Bank, received the populist delegation in December. Hillel Weiss and David Ha’ivri, both proponents of “neo-Zionism,” a movement which holds the belief that it is impossible to live in peace with Arabs, traveled to Germany last April for a conference hosted by the small, German right-wing populist movement Pro-NRW.

Their hope is that a pan-European platform will begin to emerge that values Israel as an important bastion in resisting the advancing tide of Islam. And they think, with the populist right making electoral gains across Europe in recent years, the smart bet is on Strache and Co [that being Heinz-Christian Strache and his Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ)].

“The reasonable right parties have their roots at home. The Germans in Germany, the Swedes in Sweden and so on,” says David Lasar, a member of the Vienna city government for the FPÖ. “I think that Israel is also a country that says this is our homeland and we can’t open the borders and let everyone in as happened in Europe. That is a reason that Israel today has more trust in the right-wing parties in Europe than in the left-wing parties.”

Lasar himself is Jewish and is one of the key players in ongoing efforts to tighten relations between Israel and the Europeans. And his view on Israel is one which would seem to be at odds with his party’s past positions on the Middle East. Whereas Lasar is skeptical of peace negotiations which would require Israel to give up East Jerusalem or to withdraw from the settlements, the FPÖ has traditionally been allied with Arab leaders such as Moammar Gadhafi and remained skeptical of America’s hard-line position on Iran.

That, though, Strache made clear, is changing. “There are areas where we Europeans cannot sleep, where we can’t remain silent,” says Strache. “Israel is in danger of being destroyed. Were that to happen, it would also result in Europe losing its foundation for existence.”

So how do the Gaddafis fit into this picture?

The FPÖ, one of several right-wing populist parties gaining in popularity across Europe, is viewed with distaste by many for its strident opposition to Austria’s Muslim immigrant population. The party is also deeply skeptical of the European Union and efforts to prop up the common currency. Many see the FPÖ and its right-wing allies across the Continent as being too close to the extreme right wing for comfort.

But it is also no secret that Strache’s party has long had close ties to the Gadhafi clan. Former FPÖ leader Jörg Haider became friendly with Gadhafi’s second-oldest son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, when the Libyan was studying in Vienna in the 1990s. Haider visited Tripoli for the first time in 1999 and returned several times thereafter, getting to know Moammar Gadhafi in the process.

Following an internal party spat, Haider split off from the FPÖ in 2005 and founded the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ). And in 2008, the right-wing leader died in a car accident.

The two parties rejoined forces soon thereafter and the FPÖ, Strache said, has maintained relations with the Gadhafi clan.

So why is this story coming out now about Saif al-Islam claiming Libya was ready to sign a peace treaty with Israel and also negotiate the release of Gilad Shalit? None of the Gaddafi family seems well-placed right now for taking major initiatives in international diplomacy.

On the other hand, if they don’t want to suffer the same fate as Mubarak, maybe the possibility of asylum in Israel looks quite attractive to the Gaddafis, so it wouldn’t be a bad time to burnish their image as Zionist-friendly peacemakers.

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