Number of Arab countries welcome UAE-Israel deal, others keep silent

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Speaking to reporters after the agreement was announced, Kushner noted “there is a good chance that another country could make a deal with Israel in the coming days.”

A man reads a copy of UAE-based The National newspaper near the Burj Khalifa, in the gulf emirate of on August 14. (AFP)

ABU DHABI--The deal to normalise diplomatic ties between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, which US President Donald helped broker, was welcomed by a number of Arab countries while others remained silent.

Despite its close relationship with Iran, the Gulf state of Oman, one of the few Arab states not to shy away from open ties with Israel, said Friday it supports the UAE’s decision to normalise ties with Israel, adding that it hoped the accord would contribute to a comprehensive, just and sustainable peace in the Middle East.

The statement by a foreign ministry spokesman, carried by state news agency ONA, called the UAE-Israel agreement “historic.”

While the UAE entertained a series of Israeli cabinet ministers over the past two years, late Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said triggered heated debate in the Middle East in October 2018 when he hosted Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu himself, along with his wife Sara, at his palace in Muscat.

A clip from the meeting was aired on Oman’s evening news once the Netanyahus were back in Jerusalem.

Oman, which is neither Sunni- nor Shia-dominated, plays an important diplomatic role in the Gulf region.

Omani foreign policy, which is aimed at maintaining ties with most of its neighbours, has enabled the sultanate to balance relations with competing regional superpowers.

Another positive reaction came from Jordan, which said the deal could push forward stalled peace negotiations if it succeeds in prodding Israel to accept a Palestinian state on territories that Israel has occupied since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

“If Israel dealt with it as an incentive to end occupation … it will move the region towards a just peace,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in a statement on state media.

Israel’s failure to do this would only deepen the decades’ old Arab-Israeli conflict and threaten the security of the region as a whole, Safadi said.

The Jordanian foreign minister pointed out that the agreement must be followed by Israel ending any unilateral moves to annex territory in the occupied West Bank and which “obstruct peace prospects and violate Palestinian rights.”

“The region is at a crossroads…continued occupation and denial of the Palestinian peoples’ legitimate rights won’t bring peace or security,” Safadi added.

Jordan lost the West Bank including East Jerusalem to Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Jordan was the second Arab country after Egypt to sign a peace treaty with Israel and many of its more than 8 million citizens are of Palestinian origin.

As expected, Bahrain and Egypt, two of the UAE’s closest regional allies, also praised the agreement.

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, writing on Twitter Thursday, stressed that the agreement was aimed to “stop Israel’s annexation of the Palestinian territories” and “achieve prosperity and stability for our region.”

Bahrain, which has signalled that it too is open to formal ties with Israel, said the UAE had shown “wise leadership” and taken a step “toward the achievement of peace in the Middle East.”

Other Arab governments remained essentially silent. Experts believe most of these governments are likely to still be studying the implications of the surprising announcement, with some seeking to strike a balance between realpolitik and predictable public reservations about normalisation with Israel.

In many Arab countries, opposition to normalisation has long been influenced by resilient sympathy for the Palestinians’ plight, even as the Arab street has grown more preoccupied in recent years with bread-and-butter issues.

Islamist, leftist and pan-Arabist narratives have also encouraged rejection of any normalisation moves.

But quite a few countries that have not voiced any reaction to the deal are known to have pursued low-key steps in the past towards normalising ties. Last February, a surprise meeting between Sudanese Sovereign Council Chairman Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Netanyahu was interpreted as signaling the start of the normalisation process between Israel and Sudan.

After a meeting in Entebbe February 3 between Burhan and Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister’s office pointed out that Israeli and Sudanese officials “agreed to start cooperation leading to normalisation of the relationship between the two countries.”

The UAE-Israel agreement, will, however, pile pressure on Saudi Arabia to follow suit, despite reservations by conservatives at home. The process of normalisation with Riyadh is likely to be slow and short on dramatic announcements.

But the consensus among experts is that Thursday’s agreement could not have been possible without Saudi Arabia’s blessing. Riyadh’s silence until now could be because leaders believe the time is not yet ripe for them to make a similar move.

But there is speculation that other normalisation moves could be in the offing. On Thursday, Jared Kushner, a senior advisor to Trump, hinted that another Arab country was likely to establish ties with Israel.

Speaking to reporters after the UAE-Israel agreement was announced, Kushner noted, “There is a good chance that another country could make a deal with Israel in the coming days.”

An unidentified US official later said that it was just “a matter of time” before Bahrain and Oman followed suit and established ties with Israel.

The official cited Bahrain’s decision to host the unveiling of the Trump administration’s Middle East plan last year, and Oman’s previous trade relations with Israel.

Trump did not mention either country while speaking to reporters on Thursday but suggested more diplomatic breakthroughs may emerge between Israel and countries in the region.

“Things are happening that I can’t talk about,” he said.

The momentum of favourable reactions could be influenced by world leaders’ warm welcome of the UAE-Israel deal.

Positive reactions also poured in from main global capitals, with France expressing support for the deal, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Thursday.

Israel’s decision to suspend its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank under the historic agreement is a “positive step,” Le Drian said in a statement, adding that the suspension “must become a definitive measure.”

The accord paved the way for a resumption of talks between Israelis and Palestinians with the aim of establishing two states, he said, calling it “the only option” to achieve peace in the region.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also welcomed both the agreement and the decision to suspend annexation and called to congratulate his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi on “this historic step.”

“We stand by our position that only a negotiated two-state solution can bring lasting peace to the Middle East,” Maas said in a statement.

“Together with our European partners and the region we have campaigned intensively in past months against an annexation and for the resumption of direct negotiations.”

China too said it welcomes “any measure that helps in easing tensions between Middle Eastern countries and promotes regional peace and stability.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing will “continue to firmly support the Palestinian people’s just cause of restoring their legitimate national rights and building national independence.”

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash on Friday described as “encouraging” the reactions from main Arab and global capitals to the UAE’s agreement with Israel.

Signs of warming ties between Israel and the UAE had long been in evidence. In May, the first direct commercial flight from the UAE landed in Tel Aviv.

In June, the UAE and Israel announced they would partner to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, further demonstrating increased activity between the two states.

According to Trump, delegations from Israel and the UAE are expected to meet at the White House for a signing ceremony in three weeks.

They are expected to sign bilateral agreements on direct flights, security, telecommunications and other issues.

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