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Arab states cautious about ties with Israel

China Daily | Updated: 2020-09-01 09:17

CAIRO-United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recent Middle East trip hit a snag when his Arab hosts voiced caution on normalizing ties with Israel, following the United Arab Emirates' historic move, analysts said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with UAE's National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates August 26, 2020. Picture taken August 26, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Pompeo recently wrapped up a five-day trip to the Middle East, which took him to Israel, Sudan, Bahrain, the UAE and Oman, hoping to push more Arab nations to follow suit after a landmark US-brokered normalization deal was reached between Israel and the UAE on Aug 13. Pompeo had hoped to counter Iran's increasing influence in the region and support US President Donald Trump's reelection campaign.

However, in Sudan, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok told the US top diplomat that the Sudanese transitional government had "no mandate to normalize ties with Israel".

Hamdok also urged the US to separate the process of removing Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism from the issue of normalizing Sudan's ties with Israel.

In Bahrain, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa told Pompeo that the kingdom was committed to the twostate solution and the Arab Peace Initiative to end the Israel-Palestine conflict, implying his rejection of the bid to push Arab countries to swiftly normalize ties with Israel.

Sudan, Bahrain and Oman declined to make any public commitments to recognize Israel, reflecting the domestic challenges they would face on the issue.

Niu Xinchun, a researcher with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, said that Arab nations are facing domestic pressure from sections traditionally hostile to Israel.

Abdul-Rahim Al-Sunni, a political analyst at the Future Studies Center in Sudan, said Sudan had been trying to improve ties with the US since the ouster of president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, and normalizing ties with Israel could be a step for the government to achieve this.

However, he added that the Sudanese government was facing huge pressure from some hard line parties which believed that addressing internal conflicts should be the top priority instead of seeking any diplomatic breakthrough, given the transitional status of the government.

The public remains an obstacle in Oman, experts said. Mohammad Al-Muqadam, former head of the History Department at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, said Oman's leader has to be cautious about normalizing ties with Israel as Omanis were traditionally hostile to Israel.

He said: "It is not likely Oman will swiftly forge ties with Israel".

Decades-old allegiance

Meanwhile, warming ties with Israel will also challenge these Arab countries' decades-old allegiance to the Palestinian cause.

Following the announcement of the UAE-Israel deal, which made the UAE the third Arab country after Egypt and Jordan to normalize ties with Israel, criticism mounted from some parts of the Arab world, with the Palestinians strongly condemning it as a "stab in the back".

A peace agreement with Israel would isolate the UAE from the Arab world, Azzam el-Ahmad, a member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah central committee, told the Voice of Palestine. The UAE-Israel deal contradicted the 2002 Saudi Arabia-led Arab Peace Initiative, under which any Arab state's unilateral normalization with Israel is "rejected", he said.

Saudi Arabia said it would not follow the UAE's example until Israel signed a peace deal with the Palestinians.

In the Arab world, where the Palestinian issue is a major policy consideration, formal recognition of Israel could be seen by many as betrayal of the Palestinian cause.

In light of the cautious attitude adopted by Sudan, Bahrain and Oman toward recognition of Israel during Pompeo's trip, analysts predicted that it was unlikely that the Arab world would fall like dominoes to follow the UAE's footsteps, at least for now.

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