Oman previously worked behind the scenes to bring Israel and Palestine to the negotiating table, referring to its role as an adviser, not moderator, and will now be the first Gulf monarchy to open an embassy in Ramallah.
When Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said appeared to step up talks with both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships in late 2018, for many the tiny Gulf country came across as an unlikely arbitrator to take up the job of resolving one of the world's longest-running conflicts.
One of the oldest independent states in the Arab world, Oman was a crucial political and economic powerhouse in the region until the 19th Century. Since His Majesty Sultan Qaboos ousted his father in 1970, he followed a moderate foreign policy based on negotiation tempered with pragmatism and long-term foreign policy goals.
Although the Sultanate sought to ease the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, it denied being a mediator between the two parties. The announcement of the opening of an embassy in Ramallah, the administrative center of the Palestinian Authority, is yet another step towards positioning itself as a neutral diplomatic channel in the Middle East — a maneuver that is rare for any Gulf monarchy when it comes to dealing with the Palestine-Israel conflict.
"In line with the Sultanate's support for the brotherly Palestinian people, it has decided to open a new diplomatic mission for Palestine at the level of embassy," the foreign ministry said in a Twitter post.
“A delegation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will travel to Ramallah to initiate the opening of the embassy.”
The announcement came a day after Senior Advisor to US President Donald Trump, Jared Kushner launched a ‘Peace to Prosperity’ conference in Bahrain to unveil Washington’s economic plan for Palestine, which he described as the “deal of the century”.
Several Gulf states attended the conference while Palestinian leaders boycotted it, citing the US decision to accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the American embassy there. Besides that, funding cuts made by the US disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians who heavily relied on the aid of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Oman skipped the conference as well, dispelling rumours that the kingdom was planning to participate in it.
Earlier this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Oman for taking steps to ensure "peace” in the Middle East. This came after he made a landmark visit to Oman last year.
Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah made several comments in favour of Israel in the past, including defining Israel as an “accepted Middle Eastern state”, calling on Arabs to take initiatives to make Israel overcome “fears for its future”.
But despite the country's warming relations with Israel, Abdullah said the sultanete would not normalise its relations with the Zionist state until a sovereign Palestinian state was established.
Other steps in the Middle East
Amid soaring tensions between Iran and the US, Oman also stepped up talks with both Tehran and its Gulf allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in a bid to ease tensions in the region.
Oman has also encouraged negotiations between Tehran and the US, taking advantage of having friendly ties with both the countries.
The Omani FM’s visit to Tehran in May came less than a week after the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a phone conversation with His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.
A press release from the US Department of State said: “The secretary thanked the Sultan for Oman’s enduring partnership with the United States, as well as its continued engagement and dialogue on the region’s most challenging issues.”
Despite the efforts of Oman, the country has to deal with several problems close to its borders.
On May 20, Iran shot down a US drone worth $110 million in the Gulf after it was accused by Washington last week of attacking several oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman belonging to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.