White House said pushing Israeli-Arab non-belligerence agreements
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White House said pushing Israeli-Arab non-belligerence agreements

US deputy national security adviser Victoria Coates reportedly meets with envoys from UAE, Oman, Morocco, Bahrain to gauge willingness; initiative backed by Israel’s FM Katz

Foreign Minister Israel Katz and his Bahraini counterpart Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa (R) pose for a photograph at the State Department in Washington on July 17, 2019. (Courtesy)
Foreign Minister Israel Katz and his Bahraini counterpart Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa (R) pose for a photograph at the State Department in Washington on July 17, 2019. (Courtesy)

A senior White House official has reportedly urged several Arab states in the Middle East to sign non-belligerence agreements with Israel as a step toward normalizing relations with the Jewish state.

Citing “Israeli, Arab and US sources,” Axios reported on Tuesday that the US administration’s deputy national security adviser Victoria Coates met last week with ambassadors to Washington from four Arab nations — the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Morocco and Bahrain — and said the US would support the move.

The meetings sought to gauge the willingness to upgrade relations with Israel among the four countries, the report said. All have maintained increasingly robust strategic and intelligence ties with Israel, a link bolstered by a common view of Iran as a shared regional foe.

But the defense ties have remained mostly secretive, and have not translated into formal diplomatic relations.

The ambassadors all told Coates they would consult with their governments and return “soon” with their response, the report said.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, during a UN climate conference in the city, in late June, 2019. (Courtesy Katz’s office)

Then, on Monday and Tuesday, Coates and other US officials met with a delegation of their Israeli counterparts to discuss the matter.

The report cited Israel’s current political deadlock and the Arab governments’ longstanding desire to see progress on the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process as factors that “will make implementation very difficult.”

The initiative was first proposed by Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who revealed in October he had been pushing such non-aggression treaties with several Arab countries in the Gulf, a “historic” démarche he said could end the conflict between Jerusalem and those states.

“Recently I have been promoting, with the backing of the prime minister, a diplomatic initiative to sign ‘non-aggression agreements’ with the Arab Gulf states,” Katz wrote on Twitter in early October.

“It’s a historic move that will end the [formal] conflict [with those states] and enable civilian cooperation until the signing of peace agreements,” he said, in what appeared to be a tacit acknowledgement that no Arab country is currently willing to establish full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved.

Katz further confirmed that he presented his plan to several Arab foreign ministers during his visit to New York in late September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. He also discussed the proposal with the US administration’s outgoing special envoy for the peace process, Jason Greenblatt, he said.

On September 23, Katz tweeted that he had held talks with an unnamed counterpart from an Arab country with which Israel does not have formal relations, and said they discussed “ways to deal with the Iranian threat” and a process for boosting “civilian cooperation.”

Katz agreed with his Gulf Arab interlocutors during “a series of meetings” in New York to set up working teams to take the non-aggression pact forward, a Channel 12 report that month said, citing sources close to Katz.

The draft clauses would reportedly include commitments to develop “friendly relations and cooperation” in accordance with the UN charter and international law; to prevent hostility or incitement to hostility against each other; and to eschew any military or security alliance with other parties against each other.

Among other elements, the TV report said, the draft text specifies cooperation in the fight against terror, and in advancing economic interests.

King Mohammed VI delivers a speech at the Hassan Mosque plaza in Rabat, Morocco, March 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Katz, who is also intelligence minister, has previously met with senior Arab officials at least twice: In early July, he met an unnamed senior Emirati official during a visit to the Gulf city of Abu Dhabi. Later that month, he shared a photograph with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa during an event hosted by the US State Department in Washington. It marked the rare instance in which a top Arab official was publicly documented meeting a senior Israeli figure.

In November 2018, Katz traveled to Oman to attend an international transport conference. “In my view cooperation between Israel and the Gulf states can and should be expanded,” he said at the time. “Israel also has a lot to offer when it comes to water desalination and irrigation, agriculture and medicine.”

In his speech at the UN last month, Katz stressed that Israel “has a clear policy to advance ties, and normalization with the Arab Gulf States. We have no conflict with the Gulf states, and we have common interests in the field of security against the Iranian threat as well as in developing many joint civilian initiatives,” he said.

“Israel has a lot of capabilities in many areas, including hi-tech, innovation, agriculture and water technology, which can help the Gulf states, and the Gulf states have a lot of capabilities that can help Israel as well,” he noted. “I hope that this cooperation will lead to the signing of peace agreements between our countries, as we did with Egypt and Jordan.”

In August, Katz said it was realistic to expect formal peace deals with moderate Sunni Gulf states within a few years.

Reached for comment on the reported new push by the Trump White House, a “senior administration official” told Axios the US “would certainly welcome expanding relationships between our critical allies and partners in the Middle East,” but declined to confirm or otherwise comment on specific initiatives.

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