Tel Aviv is in talks with ‘many’ Arab nations that are ‘in line’ to establish relations with Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed in the wake of the UAE ‘normalizing’ relations with the Jewish state.
“There are many more unpublicized meetings with Arab and Muslim leaders to normalize relations with the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said at a joint press conference with US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and Jared Kushner, the White House senior adviser
The prime minister did not specify which Arab nations are involved, but he claimed that other Arab and Muslim leaders are lining up to normalize relations. He further asserted that the UAE’s decision to normalize relations with Israel has deprived Palestine of its ‘veto’ on peace between the Jewish state and the Arab world.
UAE’s president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has just signed a decree abolishing a 1972 law banning any deals between the Emirates and Israel. The move is a part of the implementation process of the normalization agreement mediated by the US and signed earlier this month.
The deal was sharply criticized by Palestinian officials as well as by some other nations, such as Turkey, that accused Abu Dhabi of betraying the Palestinian cause in pursuit of its own interests.
On Monday of this week, the first direct flight between Israel and the UAE will carry a joint US-Israeli delegation led by Kushner and Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat to the Arab state. An Israeli Defense Ministry delegation is also expected to travel to Abu Dhabi soon.
While many Arab rulers have maintained secret relations and collaboration with Israel for many years in varying degrees of substance and significance, the official normalization of relations with Israel absent a conclusive and comprehensive peace agreement that is acceptable to the Palestinians remained a step too far for most Arab and Muslim countries.
A recent report by the Jerusalem Post comments that, in the wake of the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, there have been rumours that several other states could be next to sign an agreement with Israel. Noting that there are still considerable hurdles to normalizing relations with some states in the Middle East, the report argues that there are others who view the UAE decision as a trial balloon and will adjust their official postures based on how the next weeks and months play out between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi.
The report compiles a list of five countries that it considers are most likely to normalize relations with Israel in the near future.
Bahrain was long thought to be the first country in the Gulf that might normalize relations with Israel. The small kingdom has often made relatively positive comments about Israel over the years and appeared open to the Trump administration’s ‘Deal of the Century’ by hosting discussions about the economic aspects of it. Bahrain has welcomed the UAE deal with Israel, and initial reports indicated it was working on normalizing relations after the UAE. Last December, media reports in the Gulf noted that Bahrain was reaching out to Israel.
However, Bahrain faced strong protests in the 2011 Arab Spring and, as such, it appeared wiser for it to let the UAE be the first to move regarding relations with Israel.
Morocco is reported to be one of the states on the short list of opening relations with Israel in the near term. Morocco has been supportive of the Trump administration’s efforts on peace issues. In February, there were even rumours at Axios about Israel and the US recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over the West Sahara (presumably as a quid pro quo for supporting the ‘Deal of the Century’).
Israel-Morocco ties go back to the 1960s. King Hassan II played a key role in these warming relations, including working with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat before his historic 1977 visit. Peres visited Morocco in 1986, and prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and foreign minister Peres met Hassan II in 1993.
In October 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a trip to Oman and met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Oman’s minister responsible for foreign affairs, Yusuf bin Alawi, made positive comments about accepting Israel in the region during subsequent discussions in Manama. In April, the Omanis made similar comments in Jordan at a conference, saying it was important to assure Israel that it was not being threatened. While Jordan slammed the comments, Oman continued to push forward with relatively positive views on Israel.
Saudi Arabia has appeared to be more open to Israel in recent years. That has come about as a result of several processes. Saudi Arabia has tried to clamp down on the kind of extremism that roiled the kingdom in the 1990s and in the last decade has appeared to share more interests with Israel.
However, Saudi Arabia has preferred to let other Gulf states that it works closely with go first in discussions with Israel. This includes Oman, the UAE and Bahrain. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has sought close relations with the Trump administration and has also made relatively positive comments on issues relating to the peace process in Israel. This is a shift from the old days, when the Palestinian issue was seen as front and centre of everything in the Middle East.
Riyadh was a leader of the Arab initiative to recognize Israel in the 2000s in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. This was proposed in 2002, and Riyadh has thus shown support for opening relations with Israel in this context. Saudi Arabia doesn’t want Turkey to take over the mantle of being the main supporter for the Palestinians and thus displace Saudi influence.
Recent reports have indicated that key members of the Trump administration, including Jared Kushner, think normalization is inevitable with the kingdom. An Israeli blogger reportedly received a friendly reception in Saudi Arabia in February, and Israelis can ostensibly travel to Riyadh, according to Israeli media reports.
While the US and Israel are putting a lot of pressure on the Saudis to normalize relations they remain reluctant to take the final fateful step, presumably concerned about the likely backlash the Saudi monarchy would face from the people, and the Saudi foreign minister has stated that no diplomatic relations will be established until there is a broader peace agreement that includes the Palestinians. LINK
Qatar and Israel had historically warm relations in the 1990s, and it was thought years ago to be the first in line for normalization. This happened after the Gulf War in 1991. There has been an Israeli trade office there since 1996. Qatar, Israel and the US formed a kind of tripartite relationship in light of this.
The young emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is key to Qatar’s relationships across the region. The 40-year-old leader came to power in 2013. Qatar had helped fuel the Arab Spring and used Al Jazeera to fan protests across the region to gain influence. However, it saw many of these protests fail and regimes defeat Qatar-backed candidates.
More isolated now, Qatar has Turkish troops in Doha after the 2017 crisis with Riyadh. That means it must rely on Turkey, which, except for Iran, is the most hostile regime in the region to Israel. Qatar is also close to Tehran. This means whatever feelers Qatar once had for peace, and even attempts to cultivate pro-Israel voices through junkets to Doha, are largely on ice.
Nevertheless, Qatar does have discussions with Israel about Gaza, where it plays a key role. Some Israelis see Qatar as playing a potential positive influence. Former defence minister Avigdor Liberman revealed a trip by the head of the Mossad to Qatar in February 2020. In 2018, Liberman met the Qatari foreign minister.
For the moment, it appear thast Qatar prefers to be a centre of meetings and intrigue rather than a peace partner.
Sudan has also been the subject of numerous reports suggesting that key figures of the new military leadership of the country have been meeting with senior Israeli officials at least since the beginning of the year, but up until now it is also resisting insistent US and Israeli pressure to normalize relations. It appears that the US is using the additional leverage of offering to remove the sanctions it has long imposed against Sudan.
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