After the Emirates and Bahrain, which Gulf country will make peace with Israel?

After the Emirates and Bahrain agreed to normalise their relations with Israel there is little doubt that other countries will join in, but the question is who will be next
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AFP / JACK GUEZ  -   The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will sign agreements to recognise Israel on 15 September. US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will sign the Abraham agreements - a reference to the common traditions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity - in a ceremony at the White House.

The Emirates made history by becoming the first Persian Gulf country to reach an agreement with Israel on 13 August, and from that moment onwards rumours pointed to others following in its footsteps, joining Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab states that had already done so, in 1979 and 1994 respectively.

Mr Baréin did so on the 11th, another "historic achievement", as described by the US president, Donald Trump, who has been responsible for facilitating rapprochement between his Arab Gulf partners and Israel, his main ally in the Middle East, in the framework of a White House plan for the region.

A multilateral agreement?

"This is not a broad agreement between the Gulf countries, the US and Israel", the director of the "Future Dynamics in the Gulf" project of the British think tank Chatham House, Sanam Vakil, told Efe.

"There are clear differences and divisions between the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC, comprising Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar)," the expert pointed out, highlighting for example Kuwait's position, which is totally anti-Israeli and very much in favour of the Palestinians.

In Vakil's opinion, the "great victory" for Washington would be for Saudi Arabia to join the pacts, as it is the most powerful country in the Gulf and the main US ally, in addition to being the point of reference for the other Arab Sunni monarchies and even for other Muslim countries in other regions.

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PHOTO/REUTERS - El Príncipe Heredero de Arabia Saudita Mohammed bin Salman
Saudi Arabia, the great question mark

According to Vakil, the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz, "is following a cautious path because of his role as guardian of the two holy mosques" of Mecca and Medina, the most important sites for Muslims, followed by the Esplanade of the Mosques in East Jerusalem, Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967.

But the analyst believes that the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the strong man of the kingdom, could choose to seal an agreement with Israel because it would benefit Riyadh's position vis-à-vis Washington and also vis-à-vis Iran.

Both the US, Israel and the Gulf countries share their enmity with Teheran, which has become a link between the Sunni Arabs and Israelis after decades of antagonism with the Jewish state.

A few days ago Trump referred to Saudi Arabia in a statement to the press, in which he stated that "several countries" will join the peace agreements with Israel, including "the big ones".

"I spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia (...) we have just started the dialogue. And they are also going to join in," he said, according to a statement from the White House.

Oman, first on the list

All fingers are now pointing to Oman as the next country to follow in the wake of UAE and Bahrain, as it has already maintained relations with Israel openly in recent years, though it has not made the ties official.

In October 2018 Muscat received the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, which surprised and angered some Arab governments, which sometimes maintain secret contacts with Israel and military or trade cooperation, but not at such a high level.

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EMBAJADA EEUU - Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tarik Al Said (R) meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

 

Furthermore, the Omani foreign minister, Yusuf bin Allawi bin Abdullah, declared at the time that "Israel is a state", an acknowledgement that few Arab states have made publicly to date owing to the Palestinian cause and a public opinion that continues to be largely anti-Israeli.

An analyst from Muscat, who asked for anonymity, told Efe that "Oman will spare no effort to achieve peace" in the Middle East, but ruled out that the sultanate will seal an agreement with Israel.

According to the Omani analyst, who previously held a prominent position in an institution in the country, no Gulf monarchy will follow in the footsteps of the UAE and Bahrain for the time being, and if Oman did so in the future it would be "on condition of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state" and other demands included in the Arab peace initiative of 2002.

The sultanate has welcomed agreements with Israel by Abu Dhabi and Manama in line with its stance of "respecting the sovereignty and decisions" of the other countries, added the analyst who is familiar with Omani politics, who stated that "Oman will always welcome an opportunity for peace".

This same week Oman, together with Bahrain, the UAE and Jordan, did not support a joint statement by the foreign ministers of the Arab League in which the Palestinians asked for the rejection of the Emirati agreement to be included, just two days before the announcement of the Bahrain agreement.