Oman Israel Sees Good Omen
By Benni Avni
the weekend, Oman’s sultan, Qaboos Bin Said, stunned the region by welcoming
Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, to his palace in Muscat. He went
even further and encouraged Israel to publicly report the visit. Omani TV beamed
handshakes and smiles across the Arab world.
public theatrics fly in the face of decades of refusal by many Arab nations to
even acknowledge Israel’s existence. Mr. Netanyahu said the visit was in line
with his policy of “deepening relations with the states of the region.”
minimized the event’s significance: Tiny Oman, after all, is neither Sunni nor
Shiite, and plays no significant role in regional power politics. Yet Israel’s
minister of culture and sport, Miri Regev, visited another Gulf state just a few
Ms. Regev is a hardliner; at last summer’s Cannes film festival, she wore a
long dress provocatively laced with an image of he skyline of Israeli-controlled
Jerusalem. Yet this week in Abu Dhabi, she was photographed donning traditional
Arab garb and signing the guest book at the world’s third-largest mosque.
Oslo, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin also visited Oman. Relations were severed
soon after, though, as Israeli-Palestinian peace hopes diminished. Remaining
ties, if any, turned deeply secretive.
Jerusalem’s relations with Muslim leaders from Morocco to Indonesia have long
been kept private (albeit poorly), increasingly they’re now publicized and
even debated in the Arabic press and public forums.
Saudi Arabia, particularly under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been
building up ties to Israel, mostly to defend against Iran’s rise, though it
isn’t admitting that publicly. Jordan and Egypt already have peace pacts with
the Jewish nation.
the kicker: Greater acceptance of Israel will leave Palestinians the odd man
out, perhaps forcing them to relax their non-starter demands, which have stood
in the way of a real peace with Israel.
Palestinian cause was once the organizing principle behind ever-shaky Arab
unity. But now it’s losing steam in the region. The rise of ISIS and other
extremists challenging Arab leaders has made some of Israel’s neighbors
reconsider whether Israel is really their No. 1 threat.
more significantly, President Obama’s Middle East “rebalancing” — widely
seen as an American tilt toward Iran — genuinely scared Arab Sunni leaders,
prompting them to consider some kind of private alliance with Israel. Mr.
Netanyahu, Tehran’s fiercest public opponent, convinced them they could have a
strong ally in Jerusalem.
improved standing may also be the result, at least in part, of President
Trump’s plans for an Israeli-Palestinian “deal of the century.” It’s
based on an old Bibi idea that’s reportedly been incorporated into the plan
— and that turns a decades-old American approach to Mideast peacemaking on its
mediation since the 1990s had been premised on the notion that, with a new
Palestinian state established and living harmoniously next to Israel, the
region’s Arabs would make peace with Israel and a “new Middle East” would
has pushed the opposite: As more Arab states make peace with Israel, Ramallah
will have no choice but to get with the program.
“outside-in” approach suffered a blow recently, with Saudi Arabia’s brutal
murder of Jamal Khashoggi. With warm personal relations between the crown prince
and President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Riyadh had become pivotal for
the outside-in plan. The Saudis still wield much power in the region, but it’s
not clear how much they can be relied upon after the Khashoggi affair.
Team Trump may have pushed Oman and the emirates to step up, demonstrating their
new approach is alive and well: After Mr. Netanyahu’s Oman visit, Mr.
Trump’s Israel adviser, Jason Greenblatt, was quick to tweet: “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!”
to say, no one should count on a formal, lasting “peace in the Middle East”
any time soon. When it comes to this region, far better to bet on new violence
between anyone at any given time.
there’s certainly nothing wrong with hoping that little Oman, where President
Obama launched talks with Iran that transformed the Mideast, will once again
turn the tide — this time in a welcome direction indeed.