Pompeo’s Mideast trip hits snag over normalising ties with Israel

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recently-concluded trip to the Middle East hit a snag as the Arab nations he visited remained cautious about normalizing ties with Israel following the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) historic move, analysts have said.

Pompeo’s five-day trip, which took him to Israel, Sudan, Bahrain, the UAE and Oman, came as an effort to push more Arab nations to follow suit after the August 13 landmark US-brokered normalization deal reached between Israel and the UAE, reports Xinhua news agency.

However, in Sudan, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok told Pompeo that the Sudanese transitional government has “no mandate to normalize ties with Israel”.

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

Oman also did not make any reference to its relations with Israel.

Sudan, Bahrain and Oman declined to make any public commitments to recognize Israel, facing domestic challenges over the issue.

Abdul-Rahim Al-Sunni, a political analyst in Sudan, told Xinhua that the African nation has been trying to improve ties with the USs since the ouster of former 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 is facing huge pressure from some hardline parties which believe that addressing internal conflicts should be 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 are traditionally hostile to Israel.

He believed that “it is not likely Oman will swiftly forge ties with Israel”.

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

Following the announcement of the agreement, which made the UAE the third Arab country after Egypt and Jordan to normalize ties with Israel, criticism has 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 contradicts the 2002 Saudi Arabia-led Arab Peace Initiative, under which any Arab state’s unilateral normalization with Israel is “rejected”.

Saudi Arabia, while not condemning the deal, said it will not follow the UAE’s example until Israel signs 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.

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