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Minister predicts more normalization deals with Arab states next year

Regional Affairs Minister Issawi Frej says several neighboring countries ‘are waiting to sign agreements,’ with Israel in contact with almost every state in the region

Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej predicted Saturday that Israel will sign normalization agreements with additional Arab states in the coming year.

“Several regional states are waiting to sign agreements, and Israel is in touch with almost every state in the region,” the Kan public broadcaster quoted Frej as having said during an onstage interview in Ra’anana.

Frej did not offer the name of any specific country on the docket.

During his final year in office, then-United States president Donald Trump’s administration coaxed the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco to sign normalization agreements with Israel, in what became known as the Abraham Accords.

Sudan also agreed to such a deal, but it was never finalized and the process was likely complicated due to last month’s coup by the military, which had been the driving force behind the effort.

Oman has long been touted as one of the next countries to potentially forge diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. It hosted then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018, was quick to express its support for the normalization agreements Israel signed with the UAE and Bahrain and sent a representative to an Israeli event in New York marking the one-year anniversary of the accords’ signing in September.

US officials told The Times of Israel earlier this year that the Trump administration had Indonesia and Mauritania lined up to be the next Muslim countries to normalize relations with Israel, but ran out of time.

In this Tuesday, September 15, 2020 file photo, (left to right) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then-US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan react on the Blue Room Balcony after signing the Abraham Accords during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Israel’s chargé d’affaires in Bahrain was seen speaking with Indonesia’s defense minister on Saturday in a rare public interaction between officials from the two countries.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked told ToI earlier this week that expanding the Abraham Accords will require the US to offer its own incentives to candidate countries.

“There’s a lot of potential, but a lot is dependent on the influence of the [Biden] administration,” she said during an interview in Hebrew. “In the end, these countries make peace, not only because they have an interest in making peace with Israel, but also because they have an interest [vis a vis] the US.”

And while Jerusalem had to forgo plans to annex large parts of the West Bank to set the accords in motion, no further Israeli gestures to the Palestinians will be necessary in order to build on the existing normalization agreements, the senior minister argued.

Frej, the only Arab minister in the government, was tapped with heading the Regional Cooperation Ministry when the coalition was formed four months ago. The office has long been viewed as redundant given the Foreign Ministry’s similar portfolios, but Frej has insisted that he will make it relevant in expanding commercial contacts with the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world.

Also during Saturday’s interview, Frej said that Israel and the Palestinians erred in not capitalizing on the success of the Oslo Accords, which were signed with the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s.

“Normalization agreements with Arab states in the past year needed to include the Palestinians,” Kan quoted Frej as having said.

The Palestinian Authority lambasted the Abraham Accords as a “stab in the back” and Ramallah’s relations with the countries that signed them saw a fraying as a result.

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