Palestinians Seek Emergency Arab League Session Over Israel's Warming Ties With Arab States

Developments such as Netanyahu's visit to Oman, a visit by Chad's president in Israel and reports on Israeli attempts to tighten relations with Sudan and Bahrain in the future are 'worrisome', says Abbas adviser Nabil Sha'ath

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The Republic of Chad President Idriss Deby with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah, before their dinner at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem. Nov. 25, 2018
The Republic of Chad President Idriss Deby with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah, before their dinner at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem. Nov. 25, 2018Credit: Heidi Levine,AP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Palestinian Authority officials are seeking emergency sessions of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation over Israel's increasingly close ties with some Arab countries and what is seen as the normalization of relations with Israel.

The developments include this week's visit to Israel by the president of Chad; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit last month to the Gulf state of Oman; and reports that Israel is working to establish diplomatic ties with Sudan and Bahrain.

Former Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath, an adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas, told Haaretz that the Palestinian leadership is monitoring Israel's development of diplomatic ties. The closer relations that some Arab countries have developed with Israel run counter to declarations and resolutions adopted by the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation summits, Sha'ath said.

"There are a number of Arab and Islamic resolutions and declarations stating explicitly that there will be no process of normalization with Israel without a resolution of the Palestinian issue based on the Arab Peace Initiative and decisions of the international community," Sha'ath said.

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"What we have been seeing in recent weeks – beginning with Netanyahu's visit to Oman and the visit to Israel by the president of Chad, and now there is talk of Bahrain and Sudan and ties of one kind or another with Saudi Arabia – raises question marks, and there is therefore a need to clarify the Arab and Islamic position," he said.

Mahmoud Abbas' adviser and former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Sha'ath speaking to the media, 2003.Credit: AP

At the most recent Arab summit, in the Saudi city of Dhahran in April, a closing statement was issued to the effect that there would be no conciliation with Israel without a bilateral agreement with the Palestinian leadership, and that Arab countries were committed to acting in the spirit of the statement, Sha'ath said.

The Israeli prime minister's visit to Oman and possible future visits to Bahrain and Sudan don't constitute the establishment of full diplomatic relations, Sha'ath said, but he described the developments as "the beginning of a worrisome process that needs to be stopped."

Oman's Sultan Qaboos receives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Muscat, Oman, October 26, 2018.Credit: AP

Sha'ath said he did not believe closer relations between Israel and Arab countries was evidence of a Palestinian foreign policy failure, adding that that the Trump administration has been applying pressure on African and Arab countries to forge closer ties with Israel to isolate the Palestinian Authority.

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Asked whether the Palestinian leadership has undertaken contacts to convene an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers, Sha'ath said preliminary contacts have been made but most of the efforts at this stage have focused on an attempt to advance reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

"In Israel, and also in the United States, they are exploiting the opening presented by the [internal] Palestinian rift to draw closer to Arab and Islamic countries," he said.

Palestinian officials involved with the anti-Israel boycott have expressed concern over the recent developments but said the position taken by Arab regimes doesn't necessarily reflect sentiments among the populations in these countries. Mustafa Barghouti, the chairman of the Palestinian National Initiative and a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, told Haaretz that Arab and Islamic governments should be punishing Israel rather than rewarding it.

"This requires widespread diplomatic activity and an end to these steps, not only with Arab and Islamic countries but also with countries that historically have always been by the Palestinians' side, such as India, China, and countries in Latin America." Recent developments are not a sign of failure on the Palestinians' part, and support for the Palestinian cause in the region and around the world is actually on the rise, he added.

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