Omani Foreign Minister: Palestinians Should End Israel's Existential Fears

Omani minister says Israel 'doesn't feel secure about its future as a non-Arab country' in the region

Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah (center) sits on a panel of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, Jordan, April 6, 2019.
AFP

Oman's foreign minister urged Palestinians on Saturday to reassure Israel that it is not under threat in the Middle East, drawing a rare public rebuke from his Jordanian counterpart.

Oman's Yusuf bin Alawi and Jordan's Ayman Safadi shared the stage at a regional gathering of the World Economic Forum, held on Jordan's shores of the Dead Sea.

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Bin Alawi spoke at a time of warming ties between Israel and several Gulf Arab states, as part of an unofficial alliance against Iranian influence in the region.

The Omani minister said that Palestinians "should help Israel to get away from" what he said was its mistaken sense of being threatened.

Safadi responded sharply, to applause from the audience.

"I beg to differ on a number of issues," said Safadi. He noted that in 2002, as part of the Arab Peace Initiative, scores of Arab and Muslim countries offered Israel recognition in exchange for a withdrawal from occupied lands sought for a Palestinian state.

Safadi said the problem is whether Israeli occupation "is going to end."

Lebanon's defense minister and Bahrain's foreign minister were also present on stage during the exchange.

The recent rapprochement between Israel and several Gulf states has been fueled by deepening rivalries between regional camps, led by Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively. The Trump administration's hard anti-Iran line has contributed to growing regional tensions.

In October, Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to Oman and Israeli officials visited the United Arab Emirates in recent months.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians feel increasingly sidelined, fearing Israel, Gulf states and the U.S. plan to strike a deal behind their backs about the future of war-won lands they seek for a future state.

Jordan, which has a peace treaty with Israel, considers itself a strong advocate for Palestinian political demands. A majority of the kingdom's citizens are of Palestinian origin.

Over the past year, Gulf countries have appeared to ease their positions regarding Israel. Analysts said several recent developments signal a shift toward the establishment of formal relations between the two sides.

Last month, the Israeli national anthem was played in Qatar after an Israeli athlete won a gold medal in gymnastics. It was also played in Abu Dhabi in October during another sports event.

The move was previously unimaginable in countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel.

The cozying up between the two sides was highlighted a year ago, when the Saudi crown prince said he believed that both "the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land."

Only two countries in the region, Egypt and Jordan, have peace treaties with Israel.