Oman publicly called on Middle East countries to accept Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday made a historic visit to the Arab Muslim state, which has no diplomatic ties with Israel.
In a speech he delivered at the IISS Manama Dialogue security summit in Bahrain, Omani Foreign Minister Yousuf bin Alawi said, “Israel is a state present in the region, and we all understand this. The world is also aware of this and maybe it is time for Israel to be treated the same [as other states] and to also bear the same obligations.”
Netanyahu traveled to Oman at the invitation of the country’s leader, Sultan Sayyid Qaboos bin Said Al Said, so that the two could discuss regional issues.
The visit, which was kept secret until after Netanyahu’s return to Israel on Friday, came just two days after a Palestinian delegation led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Oman. Abbas also met with Sultan Qaboos.
Oman is offering ideas to help Israel and the Palestinians to come together but is not acting as mediator, Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, the sultanate’s minister responsible for foreign affairs, told the IISS Manama Dialogue security summit in Bahrain.
“We are not saying that the road is now easy and paved with flowers, but our priority is to put an end to the conflict and move to a new world,” bin Alawi told the summit.
Oman is relying on the United States and efforts by President Donald Trump in working towards the “deal of the century” (Middle East peace), he added.
Bahrain’s foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa voiced support for Oman over the sultanate’s role in trying to secure Israeli-Palestinian peace, while Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said the kingdom believes the key to normalizing relations with Israel is the peace process.
The three-day summit was attended by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and his counterparts in Italy and Germany also participated, but Jordan’s King Abdullah II canceled his appearance after a flash flood near the Dead Sea killed 21 people.
Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt welcomed the “warming ties and growing cooperation between our regional friends” in a tweet on Friday.
“This is a helpful step for our peace efforts & essential to create an atmosphere of stability, security & prosperity between Israelis, Palestinians & their neighbors. Looking forward to seeing more meetings like this!,” Greenblatt said.
The last such Israeli visit occurred in 1996, when former prime minister Shimon Peres traveled to Oman to meet with the sultan and open an Israel Trade Representation office.
That office was shut four years later, after the start of the Second Intifada in October 2000. The economic ties never reached the level of full diplomatic relations.
Netanyahu has long argued that the Arab world is open to normalized economic ties with Israel, even in advance of any resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
After Friday’s visit the Prime Minister’s Office said, “Netanyahu’s visit is a significant step in implementing the policy outlined by Prime Minister Netanyahu to strengthen ties with the countries of the region, while leveraging Israel’s advantages in security, technology and the economy.
“Netanyahu and the Sultan talked about “ways to advance the peace process in the Middle East and discussed a number of issues of mutual interest for peace and stability in the Middle East,” the PMO said.
Netanyahu was joined on the trip by his wife Sara, Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, National Security Adviser and National Security Council Director Meir Ben-Shabbat, Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem, the head of the Prime Minister’s staff, Yoav Horowitz and the Prime Minister’s Military Secretary, Brig.-Gen. Avi Bluth.
Netanyahu hinted at a new opening with the Arab world on Thursday when he spoke at the launch of the Israeli Innovation Center at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Tel Aviv.
“We always thought that if we solved the Palestinian problem, it would open up the doors to peace with the broader Arab world. And that’s certainly true if you could do it. But it may mean that equally true and perhaps even truer is that if you open up to the Arab world and you normalize relations with them, it will open the door for an eventual reconciliation and peace with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said.
“We should do both but I think you should not underestimate the openness and the thirst in the Arab world today for Israel. And the reason, the first reason before anything else, is that we’re there in innovation,” he said.
Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said the visit was a testament to declarations “about the good relations that are developing between the Israeli government and the Sunni countries that oppose the Iranian terror, which also threatens them.”
“In the coming days and until President Trump presents his diplomatic [peace] plan, there will be more pleasant surprises and embraces of Israel from the Gulf states.”
Reuters contributed to this report.
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