Opinion

The Omani Sultan Welcomes Netanyahu to the '22 Arab States Club'

It seems as if Arab states were more open to Israel than to the Palestinians, who are often told 'you already have 22 states!' But Israel will remain a pariah in the eyes of simple folk in the Arab world as long as it holds the Palestinians behind bars

Netanyahu looks at maps with Sultan Qaboos bin Said during his visit in Oman, October 2018
\ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

At the now well-reported ceremony welcoming the Sabbath in New York last month, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara described a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “leaders in the Middle East.” He described how they looked at Netanyahu with admiration, “as if he were their own leader,” no less. “They were waiting for him, viewing him as an integral part of any action in the Middle East without whom nothing is possible.”

Lo and behold, we have here a new Likud branch – Arab leaders. Kara’s description is more befitting of a Likud party meeting at which Netanyahu describes the wonders of his wife Sara. Or, alternatively, one could say mabruk – welcome – to the new member of the club of 22 Arab states – not as a member, God forbid, but as an admired leader.

Judging by the recent historic visit to Oman, it seems Kara’s words reflect reality. The prime minister was welcomed by Sultan Qaboos in royal fashion. And now Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev is visiting Abu Dhabi; thankfully this time she went abroad without her Jerusalem-festooned dress. God only knows in how many other Arab states Israeli representatives are traveling around as if they belonged there. It seems as if Arab states were more open to Israel than to the Palestinians, who are often told “you already have 22 states!”

I couldn’t figure out why Mossad chief Yossi Cohen troubled himself to take part in the visit. Zvi Bar’el wrote in Haaretz on Sunday that it wouldn’t be surprising if the Mossad had replaced the British secret service in protecting Oman’s dictator, Sultan Qaboos. That’s so heartening – British colonialism in Oman has an heir.

In that case, why didn’t Education Minister Naftali Bennett take part as well to strengthen educational ties and give our Omani brothers lessons in enhancing religiosity? And what about Regev? She could have showed them what loyalty to one’s national culture looks like. And Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked could have taught Oman what governance is.

Incidentally, it’s not only Kara who brags about ties with Arab states. Many others returning thunderstruck from semisecret meetings with the Saudi royal house under Crown Prince Mohammed report that the Saudis and other Gulf states yearn to have economic and tourism ties with Israel but are embarrassed because Palestinian rights are being trampled.

So the Middle East has a three-sided axis: Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed (heading a bloc that also includes Egypt). Now one of these sides has been exposed in all its ugliness and viciousness, and when a courageous and moral voice is needed castigating the crown prince, who apparently is responsible for the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Israel falls silent. This includes both the governing coalition and the opposition.

>> The sultan’s new friend: Just why did Netanyahu visit Oman? | Analysis

Of all people it’s Trump who, under pressure from American public opinion, expresses some condemnation of the Saudis – at a time when the United States has signed deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars with Riyadh. American public opinion, through its media and Congress, isn’t letting the Trump administration move on and ignore this crime, and no one in America is blaming the media for undermining the economy.

In Israel, as in Israel, even when it’s about ties with a dictator, everyone is full of praise. Oman’s leader Qaboos seems like a savior of Israel’s foreign policy, and morality is thrown out the window. Even if all Arab leaders line up at Netanyahu’s doorstep, Israel will remain a pariah in the eyes of simple folk in the Arab world as long as it holds the Palestinians behind bars.