Although Omani politics seems to be cautious and quiet in its positions and statements, it is actually the only Arab country that has good relations with the main effective parties in the region: Gulf States, Iran and Israel.
What distinguishes the sultanate from other countries that tried to have this same position is that it’s clear and it practices its sovereignty in its political methodology publicly without hiding it and without maneuvering or even explaining itself to anyone. Oman has these relations with opposing parties for reasons that might not please others but that are enough for it.
Oman’s open policy
Muscat is trying to be a mediator on major cases: the war in Yemen, the Palestinian cause and economic sanctions on Iran. These are the three most important cases right now. Whether it has succeeded in playing this role or not, it does not change the fact that Omani policy has a different vision regarding what is proscribed or accepted according to its international relations.
In this regard, Muscat differs from most Gulf States in its position on Iran which is the enemy of most Gulf States. However, it maintains a relationship that it considers a historical one since Shah Mohammad Pahlavi’s times who supported Oman in a way that directly contributed to its stability. Based on this premise, Oman keeps its relation with Iran despite the latter’s hostile practices against countries of the region and its bad international reputation.
The recent visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife to Muscat is part of the special image that distinguishes Oman from other countries. This visit was broadcast on official TV channels, which is rarely seen.
Establishing a relationship with Israel is not at the heart of the problem as Israel is a fait accompli and a part of the Middle East region. Arabs have a dispute with it – a dispute that all Arab countries and international powers are supposed to resolve or engage in, according to what each country can provide. In the end, solving the problem is in favor of the Palestinians and Arabs in the first place. There have been many rumors about the significance of Oman’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister to visit Muscat: was it to help resolve the Palestinian-Israeli issue according to the Arab initiative or to the so-called deal of the century, or was it to mediate in Iran’s favor, in less than a week before the unprecedented imposition of US sanctions on it?
Israeli leader’s visit
As for the Palestinian cause, we can accept an Arab mediator as we can accept the American or European one. If we assume hypothetically that the Palestinian case is listed on Muscat’s agenda with Netanyahu, whatever the suggested peace project may be; Egypt remains the cornerstone for the desired negotiations and Saudi Arabia is essential for the acceptance of the final solution regarding the situation of Jerusalem. However, any action taken by any Arab or non-Arab party towards peace is accepted and appreciated.
We cannot ignore that the Israeli Prime Minister’s unique visit comes at a crucial time for the region because of the approaching deadline of economic sanctions on energy trade in Iran as it seems that Iran is seeking US postponement through Omani mediation, after several failed attempts at calming the tone of recent Iranian statements and its readiness to negotiate with Washington. Even so, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has prayed for the Jews killed in the recent Pennsylvania incident.
In my view, no matter what the type of the mediation is or on which file, it can be done confidentially, out of the media glare and the criticism of Arabs. However, Muscat might want to establish a new perspective about the Omani role on major issues starting from breaking the barrier of the prohibited between it and Israel, and to show that it is brave in clarifying its positions, unlike Qatar for example that had kept its relationship with Israel hidden 20 years ago. After this relation was revealed, it had to justify it as a commercial relationship through the Israeli trade office in Doha and said these ties would be in favor of the Palestinians. As expected, this relation did not serve the Palestinians but it created a gap among them as the Doha regime was biased towards the armed factions such as the Islamic Jihad and Hamas while maintaining strong commercial ties with Tel Aviv. Thus, it was a relationship based on no principle.
In the end, no one has the right to bid on others whether on Oman or others on national issues as long as others’ interests are not affected or harmed. Oman has the right to choose its friends and to be a partner in any political effort, but the bottom line remains that this should not come at the expense of the national security of any other country.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Amal Abdulaziz Al–Hazani is a professor at King Saudi University and a writer for al-Sharq al-Awsat. She tweets @Alhazzani_Amal.