On Wednesday, the 26th of June, the Omani Foreign Ministry declared that it was planning to open a new diplomatic mission in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The decision was announced through the Ministry’s Twitter account and will be the first Omani diplomatic mission in Palestine since 2006 when the Sultanate closed its mission in Gaza due to Israeli bombing. Set to be in the city of Ramallah, the move reflects the “continuation of the sultanate’s support for the Palestinian people” and will include a delegation from Oman’s Foreign Ministry to help improve stability within the region.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official from the Palestine Liberation Organization has welcomed the decision, stating at a news conference in Ramallah that “I hope the embassy will help in educating the Omani government on the real nature of the Israeli occupation.” Likewise, Majdi al-Khaldi, an advisor to Mahmoud Abbas called The Times of Israel and stated that “we appreciate and welcome the decision of the Sultanate of Oman to open an office here.”
By building an embassy in the occupied territories, Oman is sending a clear message to the world that the Palestinian people are not alone in a time when the Trump administration has been criticized for its handling of the Israel-Palestine negotiations. According to Al Jazeera, the U.S. proposal – the so-called ‘deal of the century’, has been strongly rejected by both The Palestinian Authority and Hamas who claim that it is an attempt by the U.S. to “liquidate the Palestinian cause”. Neither Palestinian nor Israeli representatives have attended the workshops set up as part of this ‘deal of the century’ and therefore Oman’s decision can perhaps be viewed as an attempt to sideline the U.S. that have thus far failed to establish a proper and lasting peace in the region. Arab interests remain heavily invested in this peace process and as reported by the Guardian “whatever the leaders of Arab states might whisper in private, there is zero chance that they would offer serious support for any peace plan that does not include a credible path to Palestinian statehood.” This points to a possible loss of confidence in U.S. capabilities and an explanation to the timing of this decision.
Yet Israel must also be included in this dialogue for any lasting peace to be a reality. Despite not having official diplomatic relations with Oman, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, visited the country, in October 2018 and held talks with Sultan Qaboos – a move which suggests a warming of relations between the two states. Oman has regularly been compared to neutral Switzerland within the Middle East and could be seen as the perfect candidate to bridge the gap between Israel and Palestine and usher in a period of peace. Oman helped to mediate the secret U.S.-Iran talks in 2013 that led to the historic nuclear deal being signed in Geneva two years later and maintains relations with many different factions including Saudi Arabia, Iran, the U.S., Hezbollah, and Hamas.
Although no date has been given as to when the embassy will be completed, this decision should be viewed with optimism especially considering Netanyahu’s visit to Oman, which marked the first time an Israeli prime minister had done so in 22 years. Peace must come through dialogue and these events are certainly a step in that direction. For now, we must wait and see what the results of this decision will bring.