Oman/Israel: New best friends – or not?

Despite the historic meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right), and Oman’s Sultan Qaboos, the Sultanate’s Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi (shown left),  has asserted that Oman will not normalize its relations with Israel until a sovereign Palestinian state has been established.

Asked to describe the status of the warming relations, Alawi said: “There is no normalisation of relations with Israel, but rather an ongoing diplomatic process aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the Palestinian problem.”

“The establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state is a basic condition for any normalization or future relationship between the Arab region and Israel,” Alawi told his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.

Netanyahu met with bin Alawi on the sidelines of the US-sponsored Warsaw Middle East conference, vaunting the recent rapprochement between the two countries. “I have to tell you that the courageous decision of Sultan Qaboos to invite me to Oman is changing the world,” Netanyahu said, referring to his October 2018 visit to Muscat. “It’s paving the way for many others to do what you said — not to be stuck in the past but to seize the future.”

“Indeed, this is an important, new vision for the future,” the Omani foreign minister responded, speaking in English. “People in the Middle East have suffered a lot, because they have been stuck in the past. This is a new era for the future, and for prosperity for all the nations.”

The Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to Oman was interpreted in Tel Aviv as a dramatic sign of warming ties between the two nations, as well as between Israel and the broader Sunni Arab world.

However, while Netanyahu might be hailing his new found friendship with Sultan Qaboos, this week at least two of the Sultanate’s leading newspapers chose to ignore the Warsaw meeting between Netanyahu and the Omani foreign minister.

Amid troubles at home, Mr Netanyahu has launched a campaign to improve diplomatic ties with Arab or Muslim-majority states. He is under increasing pressure as Israel’s attorney general allegedly prepares to indict the prime minister on corruption charges. To avoid the impact of an indictment, Mr Netanyahu has called early elections for April in order to tackle any leadership challenge with a new mandate.

His new charm offensive has had some positive results. Last month, Israel renewed diplomatic relations with Chad after their ties were severed in 1972. Mr Netanyahu called the announcement a “historic moment” and said Israeli was “making inroads into the Islamic world. This is the result of considerable effort in recent years. We are making history and we are turning Israel into a rising global power,” he added.

However, the Arab press approached developments in Warsaw from a different angle, reporting that Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi had poured cold water on Israel’s attempts to further develop relations with Muscat by saying that there will be no diplomatic relations until a sovereign Palestinian state is established.

This edited article acknowledges input from The Times of Israel and The National






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