DEAD SEA, Jordan — Oman’s foreign minister urged Arab countries on Saturday to reassure Israel that it is not under threat in the Middle East, drawing a rare public rebuke from his Jordanian counterpart.
Oman’s Yusuf bin Alawi and Jordan’s Ayman Safadi shared the stage at a regional gathering of the World Economic Forum, held on Jordan’s shores of the Dead Sea.
Bin Alawi spoke at a time of warming ties between Israel and several Gulf Arab states, as part of an unofficial alliance against Iranian influence in the region.
The Omani minister said that the Arab world “should help Israel to get away from” what he said was its mistaken sense of being threatened, which he said was the reason behind Israel holding on to the West Bank and Golan Heights.
“Israel despite its full power is not assured of its future and doesn’t feel secure because it’s a non-Arab country living in an Arab neighborhood,” he said. “It doesn’t feel secure about the continuity of its presence in the region.”
“We as Arabs … need to actually put an end to these fears,” he said.
Safadi responded sharply, to applause from the audience.
“I beg to differ on a number of issues,” said Safadi. He noted that in 2002, as part of the Arab Peace Initiative, scores of Arab and Muslim countries offered Israel recognition in exchange for a withdrawal from occupied lands sought for a Palestinian state.
Safadi said “the problem is with Israel doing what’s right for peace.”
“I think the Arab side has done everything it could in order to send those assurance messages that we are willing to enter into a peace deal with collective security guarantees from the whole Arab world. But for that to has to happen Israel has to be part of the region. Israel is in the region, but it’s not of the region,” he said.
Lebanon’s minister of national defense was also present on stage during the exchange.
Israel has for years described its hold on the Golan and West Bank as a strategic necessity, saying its borders are indefensible from attack without them.
Israel captured the territories, along with East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and Sinai peninsula, in the 1967 Six-Day War.
The recent rapprochement between Israel and several Gulf states has been fueled by deepening rivalries between regional camps, led by Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively. The Trump administration’s hard anti-Iran line has contributed to growing regional tensions.
In October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to Oman and Israeli officials visited the United Arab Emirates in recent months.
Netanyahu met with Bin Alawi at a Warsaw security conference in February.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians feel increasingly sidelined, fearing Israel, Gulf states and the US plan to strike a deal behind their backs about the future of lands they seek for a future state.
Jordan, which has a peace treaty with Israel, considers itself a strong advocate for Palestinian political demands. A majority of the kingdom’s citizens are of Palestinian origin.