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Senior diplomat hints Oman a top contender to normalize ties with Israel next

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

This image made from video shows Oman's new sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, taking part in a cannon-fire salute outside the Royal Family Council in Muscat, Oman, January 11, 2020. (Oman TV via AP)
This image made from video shows Oman's Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, taking part in a cannon-fire salute outside the Royal Family Council in Muscat, Oman, January 11, 2020. (Oman TV via AP)

A senior Foreign Ministry official hints that Oman is at the top of the list of countries that may normalize relations with Israel next.

“We’re speaking basically to all countries in the region, in the Middle East and North Africa… They each have to decide when will be the right time for them and how to go about it. We’re speaking to all of them, Oman as well…we have ongoing cooperation,” Eliav Benjamin, head of the ministry’s Middle East and Peace Process Division, says in a briefing with international media.

Benjamin notes Israel used to have an official mission in Muscat that was opened after the Oslo Accords. He also says Israel still participates in a multilateral project with Oman, Jordan and others in the region on water cooperation.

Benjamin acknowledges that internal factors within Oman and other countries also play a role in the pace and manner in which the Abraham Accords can be expanded. Haitham bin Tariq took over in January as the sultan of Oman after the death of Qaboos bin Said, who was instrumental in the warming of Muscat’s relations with Israel.

Analysts say the new sultan, who is still working to boost his legitimacy at home, will have a harder time taking on such a controversial move so shortly after entering office. Oman has repeatedly said in recent months that it will not normalize ties with Israel before Palestinians are granted a state of their own.

Nonetheless, Benjamin is optimistic “with Oman and also with other countries. I really hope that when we meet this time next year, if not before, we will be able to talk about other countries that have joined.”

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