Explainer: Where do Arab states stand on normalising Israel ties?

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain are the latest countries in the Arab region to formally establish diplomatic ties with Israel in deals brokered by the United States.

The Palestinians have slammed the deals as grave betrayals by the Arab states, further undermining their efforts to achieve self-determination.

The only two Arab countries Israel has signed peace treaties with are Egypt and Jordan, in 1979 and 1994 respectively. Egypt and Jordan share borders with Israel and have both fought wars with Israel in the past.

But the latest normalisation deals with Israel come as part of a broader diplomatic push by US President Donald Trump and his administration, who earlier this year revealed the so-called Middle East peace plan, which has been categorically rejected by the Palestinians.












Various reports have shown that some Gulf Arab states have established covert ties with Israel in recent years, with some relationships dating back to the 1990s, when the US-brokered Oslo Accords was signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Other countries have seemed less reluctant to publicise their relations with Israel, including Oman and Sudan, whose officials have met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent years.

While many Arab states say they remain committed to the Arab Peace Initiative – which calls for Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied after 1967 in exchange for peace and the full normalisation of relations – speculations have been rife that some countries in the region would soon join the bandwagon.

Last week, when Israel, the UAE and Bahrain signed formal agreements in the White House, Trump said he expected at least five other countries to follow suit, without mentioning their names.

Here is a list of some Arab countries and where they currently stand regarding normalising ties with Israel:

Oman
Oman was one of the first countries to congratulate the UAE and Bahrain on establishing diplomatic ties with Israel, but said it remained committed to the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people who aspire to an independent state with occupied East Jerusalem as its capital.












The Gulf state maintains good relations with both the US and its rival Iran, claiming a position of neutrality in the region. It has also played a mediating role in regional conflicts.

However, there have been several contacts between Oman and Israel, including in 2018 when the late Sultan Qaboos received Netanyahu in Muscat.

It was the first time an Israeli official had visited Oman since 1996. At the time, Netanyahu’s office said the visit followed “lengthy contacts between the two countries”.

Last month, Oman’s Foreign Minister Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah held a telephone call with his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi where the two agreed on the need to strengthen relations.

The Omani official also spoke with Jibril Rajoub, secretary-general of the central committee of the Palestinian Fatah group, and emphasised the depth of Oman’s relationship with Palestinians.

Saudi Arabia
Trump has placed regional heavyweight and Iran’s archenemy Saudi Arabia at the centre of his Middle East diplomacy.

Analysts say the recent deals would not have happened without Riyadh’s support, despite the kingdom signalling it is not ready to take the same step itself.

Saudi Arabia, which said earlier this month it would allow all flights between the UAE and Israel to cross its airspace, noted it will not normalise relations with Israel outside of the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative.












But there are indications there is deep divide among the kingdom’s leadership in this regard.

A report last week by the Wall Street Journal said Saudi’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz has been at odds with his son – the country’s de-facto leader – Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), over normalising ties with Israel.

While the king is a longtime supporter of the Arab boycott of Israel and of the Palestinians’ demand of an independent state, MBS seems to be eager to join forces with Israel, to pursue business ventures and to combat Iran, the report said.

During the signing ceremony in Washington, Trump last week told reporters he spoke with the king and “started the dialogue” about normalisation with Israel.

But the state-run SPA quoted the king voicing support for a “lasting and fair” solution to the Palestinian issue during his phone call with Trump.

Sudan
Though several factors may push Sudan into normalising ties with Israel, it is unclear whether it would do so in the near future.

In August, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the issue of Sudan establishing ties with Israel during a visit to Khartoum.












In response, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said his government had no mandate to do so, and such a move could be decided after the end of the transitional period and the holding of elections, planned for 2022.

On Monday, however, Sudanese officials, including General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, met the US and Emirati officials in Abu Dhabi to discuss its removal from the US list of countries that “sponsor terrorism”.

Since coming to office, Sudan’s transitional government has been pushing to be taken off the US list, which makes the country ineligible for much-needed loans from international financial institutions and limits potential foreign investment.

But the meeting’s agenda also reportedly includes normalising ties with Israel.

Ahead of the Abu Dhabi meeting, the Axios website reported that the delegations would hold a “decisive” meeting “on a possible normalisation agreement between Sudan and Israel”.

Citing anonymous sources, Axios said Sudan’s transitional government – besides the terrorism delisting – is asking for “more than $3bn in humanitarian assistance and direct budgetary aid” in return for a deal with Israel.

Ties with Israel are a sensitive issue in Sudan, which was among the hardline enemies of Israel under the former leader Omar al-Bashir, removed from office earlier this year.












In February, General al-Burhan secretly met Netanyahu in Uganda and later said Khartoum’s position towards the Palestinian cause and their right to set up an independent state “remained and will remain firm”, even though Israeli commercial planes were allowed to overfly Sudan.

Kuwait
On Monday, the Kuwaiti government reaffirmed its position on the issue, saying it would not normalise ties with Israel until Palestinian statehood is achieved.

A “just and comprehensive solution” to the conflict must include an independent Palestinian state, an end to the occupation and the return of refugees.

The statement came two days after Trump said he expected Kuwait to be the next Arab country to establish ties with Israel.

Trump’s comments came following his meeting with Kuwait emir’s eldest son, Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, where the latter accepted an award on behalf of his 91-year-old father.

Qatar
Qatar maintains good relations with the US and is home to the strategic Al Udeid US airbase. The Gulf state is also close to Iran – one of the reasons behind the GCC diplomatic crisis.












Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5, 2017, and imposed a sea, land and air blockade, claiming Doha supported “terrorism” and was too close to Iran.

Qatar has consistently rejected the claims and said there was “no legitimate justification” for severing the relations.

The GCC rift has frustrated Trump’s efforts to form a united front against Iran in the Gulf.

Qatar is heavily engaged in the besieged Gaza Strip, managing and funding welfare payments to the Palestinian people of the occupied coastal territory.

In a statement last week, Qatar’s government spokesperson ruled out normalising ties with Israel, saying it “can’t be the answer” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The core of this conflict is about the drastic conditions that the Palestinians are living under” as “people without a country, living under occupation,” Lolwah al-Khater said.

Algeria












Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has said his country will never be part of any agreement that normalises relations with Israel.

“We have noticed a kind of scramble towards normalisation. This is something we will never participate in, nor bless,” he said in a televised speech on Sunday.

“The Palestinian issue is sacred for us and it is the mother of all issues and will not be resolved except by establishing a Palestinian state, with the 1967 borders, with Holy Jerusalem as its capital,” Tebboune said.

His remarks reflected Algeria’s stance which has remained unchanged since it gained its independence in 1962.











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