Oman to open embassy in West Bank

Oman recently decided to open an embassy in the Palestinian territories, and many Palestinians believe the step is aimed at silencing the Palestinian Authority in the wake of Oman’s relationship with Israel.

al-monitor The Omani flag, seen in an undated picture. Photo by Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images.

Topics covered

palestinian authority, gulf states, west bank, embassy, palestinian cause, israeli occupation, normalization

Jul 23, 2019

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Palestinian Foreign Ministry is welcoming Oman’s decision to open an embassy in the Palestinian territories, considering this a natural step following the sultanate’s approach and stances toward the Palestinian people, their issues, cause and rights. However, a number of Palestinians are questioning Oman's motives in the matter.

The Foreign Ministry said June 26 that opening an embassy would deepen, develop and promote bilateral relations between the two countries and would bolster joint coordination between the heads of the two countries about certain issues. The ministry also underlined that it would work to facilitate the actual implementation of this step to serve the interests of Palestinians and Omanis. In light of its growing relationship with Israel, Oman has recently sought to bring together both the Palestinian and Israeli positions to settle the Palestinian cause.

The Omani Foreign Ministry decided to open a new diplomatic mission in the West Bank city of Ramallah in a step that complements the sultanate’s supportive stance of the Palestinian people. 

On June 25, Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah had met with the Palestinian ambassador to Oman, Tayseer Jaradat, stressing the sultanate’s full and relentless support for the Palestinian people and its [Oman's] insistence on developing bilateral relations on all levels, including establishing a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.

As of July 21, a source in the Palestinian Embassy in Oman told Al-Monitor that the Omani side is waiting to get permits from Israel to enter the West Bank and complete the necessary measures to open the embassy. 

Some Palestinians worried that there could be ulterior motives behind the decision to open the embassy.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper June 27, “If opening the embassy is even remotely related to recognizing Israel, we will totally refuse it. The Arab Peace Initiative [launched during the 2002 Arab League summit] is based on not recognizing Israel or normalizing with it until it withdraws from the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Political analyst Abdul Sattar Qassem told Al-Monitor, “Normalization is Oman’s motive behind its decision to open an embassy in Palestine, because it wants to patch things up after having welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and made statements about establishing relations with Israel. It wants to give an impression that it has balanced relations with both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Qassem said, “This is totally unacceptable. You cannot treat the victim and the offender equally.”

In October 2018, Oman’s relationship with Israel witnessed an unprecedented development that many saw as dangerous. Oman welcomed Netanyahu on his first official visit to an Arab country that has no diplomatic relations with Israel. The visit raised the ire of Palestinians, who saw it as blatant normalization of ties, even though Oman and Israel have not established formal diplomatic relations.

Qassem said, “The Palestinian Authority [PA] should not agree to open an embassy for Oman or any other country that has ties to Israel. That country would have to sever any public or covert relations with Israel before being allowed to open its embassy in Palestine.”

He said Oman might have made this decision at this time because it is no longer afraid of Israel given their good ties. He said that Oman has no diplomatic weight, and that this step might only include providing the PA with money, whether through grants or opening Omani markets further to Palestinians.

Raed Noueirat, a lecturer at the Department of Political Science at An-Najah National University in Nablus, told Al-Monitor, “Oman will lead the Gulf countries’ diplomatic representation in Palestine. There are no Gulf state embassies in the Palestinian territories.”

He said Oman has good relations with Palestinians and welcomes Palestinian labor. He also said that its impartial stand on many issues allows it to play a political role in the Palestinian cause, and that it might have a bigger role in the next phase.

Noueirat said that the decision to open the embassy has nothing to do with the US "deal of the century," and that he expected some Gulf states to follow suit in opening embassies in Palestine; these could include Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

He added, “Labor is an important sector for the Palestinian people, as it might solve the high level of unemployment in the Palestinian territories.”

Despite Oman’s relationship with Israel, the PA welcomed Oman's decision to open an embassy. Noueirat said the PA is clear on this point. It does not object to Arab countries’ diplomatic ties with Israel provided that they do not affect the Palestinian cause and that they boost Palestinian political efforts.

Ibrahim al-Madhoun, a political analyst close to Hamas, told Al-Monitor that the decision to open an embassy constitutes an attempt by the Omani government to balance the PA with Israel. Oman is the only Arab country that openly welcomed Netanyahu, and this step dealt a heavy blow to the PA and Palestinians in general. 

Madhoun said he believes Oman took this decision to silence the PA regarding Oman’s open and evolved relationship with Israel. He added, “This step might be a prelude to Oman playing a role in the coming stage.” 

He said there is an Arab and Gulf coherence as far as building ties with Israel is concerned. Meanwhile, formal efforts are being made to please the PA. Many Palestinians reject the PA's welcoming stand, seeing this step as a continuation of the Omani-Israeli relationship.

Madhoun said, “There are fears that this step might be paving the way for opening an Omani embassy in Israel as the bilateral ties between the two sides evolve.”

He said this step might boost relations with the PA and offer it economic grants. He concluded that Arab countries’ ties with Israel are more dangerous than not having an embassy in the Palestinian territories and that the PA must require Oman to sever all ties with Israel before allowing Muscat to establish an embassy.

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