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Oman announces plans to open embassy in Palestine

Muscat will open an embassy in Ramallah, the first Gulf state to do so
Omani Minister for Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin Alawi visits the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound East Jerusalem on 15 February 2018. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabali)

Oman is opening an embassy to Palestine in Ramallah, the foreign ministry announced on Tuesday, making it the first Arab Gulf state to do so.

A statement on the official Oman News Agency said: “In continuation of the Sultanate of Oman’s supportive approach to the brotherly Palestinian people, the Sultanate has decided to open a new diplomatic mission to the state of Palestine at the embassy level. 

“A delegation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will travel to Ramallah to initiate the opening of the embassy.”

An Oman embassy spokesman in London, Mohammed al-Busaidi, told Middle East Eye that the move aimed to show Oman's support for a Palestinian state.

Currently Oman’s ambassador to Jordan has been looking after relations with the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA), he said, adding that “talks about opening an embassy in Palestine” had been ongoing for some time.

While Palestinians have long called for the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital as part of a two-state solution, the holy city was fully annexed by Israel in 1967. Ramallah, located in the central West Bank, has served as the de facto administrative centre since the creation of the PA.

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The move coincides with the “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Bahrain, part of US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” plan for Middle East peace, which was attended by officials from several Gulf states, despite Palestinian leaders boycotting the event. 

Despite earlier rumours that it would attend, Oman did not participate in the Bahrain workshop, where US President Donald Trump's administration hopes to raise $50bn of investments for the Palestinian economy, AFP reported.

Trump has removed US financial aid for millions of Palestinian refugees, moved its embassy to Jerusalem and closed down the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) diplomatic office in Washington.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the PLO, welcomed Oman's embassy decision and any recognition of Palestine as a state, reported Reuters.

“I hope the embassy will help in educating the Omani government on the real nature of the Israeli occupation,” Ashrawi added, speaking on Wednesday in Ramallah.

The embassy announcement comes after Oman had made moves to improve ties to Israel, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making a surprise visit to Muscat last October, the first such visit by Israel's leader to a Gulf state.

Following Netanyahu’s meeting with Sultan Qaboos, Oman’s foreign minister, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, described Israel as an "accepted Middle East state". 

Officially, Oman is part of the Arab diplomatic and economic boycott of Israel that has been in force since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

However, bin Alawi has made a number of statements in favour of improved Arab relations with Israel in recent months. Speaking at a World Economic Forum conference in Jordan in April, he said: “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 neighbourhood.”

“We as Arabs … need to actually put an end to these fears,” he added, according to the Times of Israel, earning him a rebuke from Jordan's foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, who said “the problem is with Israel doing what’s right for peace.”