Netanyahu after Oman visit: There will be other such visits

Senior official said PM favors small, gradual steps toward normalization.

October 29, 2018 22:14
4 minute read.
Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Oman is the first Arab country he has  officially visited outside those with whom Israel  has peace treaties, but  that “there will be other” such visits.

In a briefing with reporters, Netanyahu said his meeting with Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said last week dealt with an array of issues, including air traffic over Oman to and from Israel, water and a possible railroad network from Muscat to Haifa.

The prime minister, according to a senior diplomatic official, is a proponent of small, gradual steps leading to normalization with the Arab world in order to accustom the public to the idea. The official said that Oman did not offer to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians, and is awaiting the US peace blueprint.

Netanyahu was in Oman for some 12 hours from Thursday evening to Friday morning, eight of those were spent with the Omani leader. The two men spoke English together and discussed a wide array of issues. They shared a fish dinner, were entertained by both classical Arab and European music, and enjoyed ice cream made without eggs.

Diplomatic officials said that preparations for the Oman visit have been going on for some 18 months, and that Netanyahu met beforehand at an undisclosed location with the Omani foreign minister. He also spoke on the phone with Qaboos prior to the meeting.

Netanyahu's visit to Oman is the most significant of several steps that have taken place over the last year between Israel and the Arab world. Among them were the visit by an interfaith delegation from Bahrain to Jerusalem in December, after US President Donald Trump announced the movement of the embassy; Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s statement in an April interview that Israel has the right to exist; Riyadh’s decision to greenlight direct flights over its airspace from Israel to India; the participation of an Israeli artistic gymnastic team under its flag in Qatar; and the playing of the national anthem in Abu Dhabi on Sunday following Israel winning a gold medal at a judo competition there.

Culture Minister Miri Regev, who was on hand for the historic playing of the national anthem, made an official visit Monday to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the third largest Muslim house of prayer in the world. She wore traditional Arab garb for the visit, and signed the mosque’s guest book in Hebrew – the most senior Israeli official to do so.

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara is expected to head to Dubai on Tuesday to participate in a conference of the International Telecommunication Union.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz is also scheduled to visit Oman next week for a regional transportation conference and to push for a railroad network connecting Haifa with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, who heads an organization fostering interreligious dialogue called the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and who was in the United Arab Emirates last week and Bahrain the week before, told The Jerusalem Post there has been a significant shift among the leadership of those countries regarding normalization with Israel.

“One thing communicated to me was the sentiment that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not need to be resolved in order to establish relations, as long as there is an ongoing dialogue [with the Palestinians],” he said.

According to Schneier, the sentiment is that relations can be normalized and established with Israel along an ongoing peace process with the Palestinians.

“This is [a] 100% shift from the past,” he said.

Earlier this month Schneier visited Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, who told him that Saudi, Pakistani, Afghani and Emirati officials consulted with him about balancing their identities as Muslim countries alongside a relationship with Israel.

In a related development, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, met on Monday with a US Evangelical Christian delegation led by Joel Rosenberg, a messianic Jew who lives in Israel, and discussed interfaith issues.

Schneier said that the UAE is keen on playing a central role in interfaith relations and in becoming a center for interreligious cooperation.

In another diplomatic development, Netanyahu called Brazil’s president-elect Jair Bolsonaro on Monday night, congratulating him on his election victory, saying it would surely lead to a strengthening of ties between Israel and Brazil.

The ultra-conservative Bolsonaro – whose victory signifies a tectonic shift in Brazilian politics – is staunchly pro-Israel. During his campaign he promised to move Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem, and close the Palestinian embassy in Brazil, since Palestine is not a state.

He said during an i24 interview last month that Israel – which he visited last year – will be the first country he visits, and that he wants to develop closer ties with the Jewish state.

“I congratulated him on his victory,” Netanyahu said of his conversation with the new Brazilian leader. “ I told him I’m certain his election will lead to a great friendship between our peoples and a strengthening of Brazil-Israel ties. We are waiting for his visit to Israel.”

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report

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