As it welcomes Rabat’s move, Oman seen ready to normalise with Israel

Analysts believe that the Moroccan move will be a turning point in the process of normalisation between Arab countries and Israel.
Saturday 12/12/2020
U.S. Secretary of State MIKE Pompeo meets with Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq at al-Alam palace in Muscat, Oman on February 21, 2020. REUTERS
U.S. Secretary of State MIKE Pompeo meets with Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq at al-Alam palace in Muscat, Oman on February 21, 2020. (REUTERS)

MUSCAT--The Sultanate of Oman welcomed Morocco’s announcement of establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, and that it hopes this step will enhance peace efforts in the Middle East.

Analysts were quick to interpret the Omani position as the first sign of Muscat’s readiness for normalisation of relations with Israel and joining the list of countries having established peace agreements with Israel.

US President Donald Trump had expressed expectations for this list to grow longer before the end of his term in January.

A statement by the Omani Ministry of Foreign Affairs praised the announcement made by the Moroccan monarch, King Mohammed VI, in his two phone conversations with US President Donald Trump and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Omani statement said that the Sultanate of Oman “hopes that this will enhance the endeavours and efforts aimed at achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

US and Israeli officials had previously indicated that Oman could be another possible candidate for normalising relations with Israel, while the Sultanate avoided the topic.

Analysts believe that the Moroccan move will be a turning point in the process of normalisation between Arab countries and Israel, because Morocco is far from the regional sensitivities, and neither the Palestinians nor their leaders will be able to level any accusations towards Rabat, as the kingdom’s support of the Jerusalem cause is beyond reproach.

They indicate that the Moroccan move will encourage countries such as the Sultanate of Oman to embark on normalising relations with Israel, especially when the sultanate in its new era under the leadership of Sultan Haitham bin Tariq is preparing to deeply overhaul its foreign policies in order to adapt them to major changes occurring in all areas in the region and the world.

The new Omani leadership will not find embarrassment in taking a step similar to Morocco and open up to Israel in the current regional climate after the agreements concluded by the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.

Moreover, the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said has opened the door on more than one occasion to positively deal with Israel, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among the last world leaders to meet with Sultan Qaboos before his death, which indicates the importance that the late Sultan attached to the Sultanate’s relationship with Israel.

After the visit, Netanyahu described the talks with Sultan Qaboos, saying, “They were important for the state of Israel and its security.” He also said that Sultan Qaboos had confirmed to him that passenger flights operated by “the Israeli airline, El Al, can fly over Omani territory.”

In subsequent statements, the Israeli Prime Minister indicated that his country decided to search for peace directly with Arab countries without conditioning that on the progress of negotiations with the Palestinians.

“When I meet Arab leaders, they tell me we have security and economic interests, and we also want to enjoy the fruits of progress, and from now on, we will not put our normalisation with the State of Israel hostage to the whims of the Palestinians,” he said.

And if the Sultanate of Oman did not up to now take the step at that time of normalising relations with Israel, its dealing with the file, nonetheless, was characterised by rationality and calm, as it considered the existence of Israel as a given.

Former Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah had once said, “Israel is a state present in the region and we are all aware of this.”

The Omani media responded coldly to statements by Oman’s Mufti, Ahmed bin Hamad al-Khalili, in which he warned against normalisation, describing the new agreements as a negative phenomenon and as “courting the enemy”He also warned against “bargaining over Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited the Sultanate of Oman in 1994, and in 1996 the two sides signed an agreement to open commercial representations in each country’s capital. In October 2000, weeks after the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, Oman closed these offices.

Last August, the Sultanate of Oman announced its support for the normalisation agreement between the UAE and Israel.

A statement from the Omani Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated “the Sultanate’s support for the UAE’s decision on relations with Israel, within the framework of the historic joint declaration between them, the United States and Israel,” after Trump announced his sponsorship of the agreement and his attendance at the signing ceremony.

The statement mentioned the Sultanate’s desire “for that decision to contribute to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, in a way that serves the aspirations of the peoples of the region to sustain the foundations of security and stability.”