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Netanyahu in Oman!

Oct 29,2018 - Last updated at Oct 29,2018

Perhaps, the best way of looking at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s surprise visit to Oman is that it creates a crack in the Arab wall of rejecting to meet Israelis in public. Oman’s minister responsible for foreign affairs, Yusuf Bin Alawi, made it perfectly clear that Israel is a normal state in the Middle East, a statement that is unusual to hear from Arab officials. It remains to be seen if this visit will be followed by similar public visits to other Arab countries.

Some analysts argue that due to the special Omani-Iranian relationship, Iran was the subject of the visit. However, others insinuate that Oman may seek to play a role in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. In the words of Yusuf Bin Alawi, Oman is offering ideas to help facilitate a meeting between Israel and the Palestinians. "We are not mediators in Israel-Palestine, but we offer facilitation and ideas to help two parties to come together,” Bin Alawi said.

Interestingly, the visit came amid a regional crisis caused by the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an incident that has caused a lot of criticism of Saudi Arabia and its role in the region. Observers are not sure whether the Omani move was designed to fill a vacuum created by the preoccupation of Saudi Arabia with the international pressure linked to Khashoggi. Therefore, it is not clear yet if Oman seeks to replace Saudi Arabia as a partner to the deal of the century.

Senior officials in Israel believe that Saudi Arabia may not be able to play a prominent role in peacemaking. The deal of the century was thought of as a plan that could only be implemented with Saudi Arabia onboard. Now, given the unfolding events caused by the assassination of Khashoggi, Riyadh may place the deal of the century on a back burner.

I personally believe that the leaders of Oman are smart. They cannot seriously think that the Palestinians would just simply agree to a deal that will work against their perception of a just deal. For this reason, Yusuf Bin Alawi said that his country is not a mediator. Implicit in this statement is a profound understanding among Omani officials of the limits of what their country could do.

Arabs should not blame Netanyahu for exploiting any crack to penetrate the Arab world. Indeed, Arab regimes have failed miserably in getting their act together. Needless to say, they have different priorities and the Palestinian cause is not as central to them as they claim. Israel understands this fact very well and, therefore, it does not feel that there is a sense of urgency to solve the Palestinian cause once and for all.

Let us be frank: The balance of power favours Israel. The Israeli right, the dominant political force, seeks expansion at the expense of the Palestinians. In doing so, Netanyahu is looking for an Arab partner who will work with him on this particular point. It does not take a genius to internalise this fact, but the Arabs are in a sort of denial!

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