Pompeo's Mideast trip hits snag as Arab states cautious about relations with Israel

2020-08-31 01:50:25 GMT2020-08-31 09:50:25(Beijing Time) Xinhua English
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) are seen during a press conference in Jerusalem on Aug. 24, 2020.(Amit Shabi/JINI via Xinhua)  U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) are seen during a press conference in Jerusalem on Aug. 24, 2020.(Amit Shabi/JINI via Xinhua)

CAIRO, Aug. 30 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recent Middle East trip hit a snag as the Arab nations he visited remained cautious about normalizing ties with Israel following the United Arab Emirates' historic move, analysts say.

Pompeo has 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 U.S.-brokered normalization deal was reached between Israel and the UAE. Pompeo hoped to counter Iran's increasing influence in the region and support U.S. President Donald Trump's reelection campaign.

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

Hamdok also urged the United States 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 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.

Also, during Pompeo's visit, Oman made no 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.

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

Abdul-Rahim Al-Sunni, a political analyst at the Future Studies Center in Sudan, told Xinhua that Sudan has been trying to improve ties with the United States 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 UAE-Israel peace deal, 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 UAE-Israel 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 of the Palestinian cause.

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.

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