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Oman Emerges As Player In Peace Process

By Dima Abumaria | The Media Line

November 2, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with Sultan of Oman Sayyid Qaboos bin Said Al Said R) in Muscat, Oman on October 26, 2018. (Photo by ISRAELI PRIME MINISTRY OFFICE / HANDOUT/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders both traveled to the country last month, raising speculation that Muscat is acting as a mediator on behalf of the Trump administration

Following Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s public visit to Oman, which, in turn, followed a trip to Muscat by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Sultan Qaboos dispatched his top diplomat to Ramallah this week for follow-up consultations. Omani Foreign Minister Yousuf bin Alawi met at the presidential compound with Abbas, Hussein Sheikh, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, and Majid Faraj, head of the Palestinian intelligence agency.

The developments have raised speculation that Oman has been tasked with determining where the parties stand ahead of the anticipated release of President Donald Trump’s comprehensive peace plan, perhaps following the United States mid-term elections.

“The recent mutual visits to Muscat indicate a new political recipe in the making,” Ibrahim Haj, a Palestinian analyst, contended to The Media Line. “It’s obviously a new diplomatic effort and therefore the details of it remain unclear.

“However, it appears to be a way to normalize relations between the Gulf countries and Israel through the conflict,” he opined, noting that other high-ranking Israeli officials recently have traveled to Arab states. This includes the very public trip last week to the UAE by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, the first-ever Israeli minister to make an official visit to the country.

Despite the conjecture, neither side seems intent on heightening expectations or divulging information. In this respect, senior Palestinian official Dalal Erekat described bin Alawi’s time in Ramallah as “purely for protocol objectives.” She stressed to The Media Line that discussions centered not on jump-starting negotiations with Israel but, rather, on “diplomatic issues concerning the Arab League.”

Notably, Prime Minister Netanyahu omitted any specific reference to the Palestinians in statements following his trip to Oman—the first by an Israeli premier to the Gulf nation in over two decades—and instead broadly suggested that his talks with Sultan Qaboos focused on “challenges facing the Middle East.” He also praised the Omani leader as a man with “very impressive experience” and emphasized that their meeting was of “great importance…for the State of Israel and its security.”

For his part, bin Alawi was less cryptic, confirming in a television interview that Sultan Qaboos had heard ideas from both Netanyahu and Abbas about possible steps that might be taken to bridge their differences as well as explanations for why, in their respective views, the peace process remains stalemated.

“I think both leaders walked out better off by the visits” bin Alawi asserted, adding that, “dialogue exists but is stalled for obvious reasons. Perhaps now they see that there is an opportunity to consider how to work out visions that are close to each other.”

He nevertheless qualified that Muscat was not acting as a mediator, per se, but as a facilitator that could potentially help the sides overcome longstanding obstacles. Indeed, bin Alawi made clear that the U.S. remains the main actor “in helping the [Israelis and Palestinians].”

“Netanyahu went to Oman under American coordination to speak about the peace talks,” according to a Palestinian analyst who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter. “A major subject was resuming the negotiations and finding new possible mechanisms to do so.”

The observer proposed that the move evidences the Trump administration’s goal of launching a multi-lateral process that includes the cooperation of regional states. He also highlighted the fact that “several countries—such as Egypt, France and Russia—have tried to play a role in ending the conflict but, at the end of the day, were unsuccessful because they did not have the support of the Americans.”

In this respect, the analyst concluded, there is no other nation that can replace the U.S. because of the diplomatic clout Washington brings to the peace process.

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