Oman’s parliament votes to expand Israel boycott, in interim step

Sultanate’s lower house approves amendment banning sports, cultural, and economic ties with Jewish state, but measure yet to face final vote

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Oman's ruler Sultan Haitham bin Tariq in London, December 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)
Oman's ruler Sultan Haitham bin Tariq in London, December 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

Oman’s lower house of parliament voted to expand its Israel boycott law on Monday, amid speculation in Israeli press that certain restrictions could be lifted.

The Majlis al-Shura, or Consultative Assembly, voted to amend the first clause of its Israel boycott law to include any sports, cultural or economic contact. The amendment also specifically bans in-person or online interaction with Israelis.

Assembly Vice-President Yaaqoub Al-Harethi explained that the amendment will “expand the criminalization and expand the boycott” of Israel, according to WAF news agency’s Twitter account.

There was no mention of the amendment on the WAF site itself.

The law in its current form bans interaction with “the Zionist entity” for private and public figures.

The amendment now moves to debate by the Majlis legislative committee before a final vote.

Oman’s ruler Sultan Haitham bin Tariq prepares for a meeting at al-Alam palace in the capital Muscat on February 21, 2020. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via AP, File)

On Sunday, Israeli media outlets speculated that the boycott debate may be tied to Israeli efforts to secure Omani authorization for civilian overflights of the country.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia — which also has no ties with Israel — allowed Israel to use its airspace, but Oman has held out against doing so, which means Israeli flights to Asia must still take a much longer route.

Hebrew media said at the time that Oman’s reluctance to follow suit was the result of pressure from neighboring Iran. Later attempts by the Biden administration to push the Omani government to allow Israeli flights to use its airspace have not borne fruit so far.

Currently, Omani law prohibits citizens from making contact with entities or individuals based in Israel directly or through mediators, for any purpose.

Oman and Israel have no official diplomatic relations, though the country has been floated as a potential nation to join the Abraham Accords with Israel, following the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman in the Gulf state on October 26, 2018. (Courtesy)

Expanding the accords is a priority for incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to his allies.

Netanyahu, who is set to return to office in the coming week, visited the country in 2018. During his visit, he reportedly received a commitment from then-sultan Qaboos to open Omani airspace to Israeli airlines. However, the decision was walked back by Qaboos’s successor, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq.

“Haitham is much more cautious in his foreign policy because of his inexperience, and his preference to sit on the fence,” said Moran Zaga, an expert on the Gulf region at Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.

At the same time, he is also more of a peacemaker than his cousin Qaboos, Zaga pointed out. He has led a thawing in relations with Oman’s neighbor, the United Arab Emirates.

Omani Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr al-Busaidi said last year that Oman would only alter its policy after a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had been realized.

Jacob Magid and Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.

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