Friends and foes gather in Oman to mourn Qaboos

Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq. (AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2020

Friends and foes gather in Oman to mourn Qaboos

  • It was Sultan Qaboos’ policy of neutrality and noninterference that elevated Oman’s standing as a ‘Switzerland of the Middle East’

DUBAI: World and regional leaders met Oman’s new ruler on Sunday to offer condolences over the death of Sultan Qaboos whose quiet diplomacy during five decades in power helped calm regional turbulence.

The rulers of the UAE and Qatar were among those who visited the royal palace in Muscat as was the foreign minister of Iran.

Oman’s new sultan, Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said, promised after assuming power on Saturday to uphold the foreign policy of his Western-backed predecessor under which Muscat balanced ties between larger neighbors Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as the US.

“His challenge going forward will be to quickly develop his personal relationships with foreign partners and make clear his likely stance to stay the course with Oman’s foreign policy,” said Elana DeLozier, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank.

Qaboos, who died on Friday aged 79, managed to maintain Oman’s neutrality, not taking sides in regional disputes.

‘True partner to US’

President Donald Trump called Qaboos a true partner to the US, working with nine different American presidents.

“His unprecedented efforts to engage in dialogue and achieve peace in the region showed us the importance of listening to all viewpoints,” Trump said in a statement.

The British government said Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles arrived in Muscat for the condolences ceremony for the longest-serving Arab leader, who took power in 1970. Among other Western dignitaries was former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

A ceremony at Muscat’s Alam Palace drew figures from across political divides in the Middle East, including Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Haitham assumes power at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the US that could destabilize a region vital to global oil supplies. Qaboos’ death leaves Kuwait’s 90-year old Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, who was also in Muscat on Sunday, as the last of the old guard leaders in the Gulf. 

The region has seen the emergence of young leaders in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi who are bent on curtailing Iran’s influence.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was among those who met the new sultan, along with Tunisian President Kais Saied, Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, and Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy was also in attendance at the ceremony, which took place a day after the new royal ruler Haitham bin Tariq was selected and sworn in.

Haitham is a cousin of Qaboos, who never married and died without an heir apparent.

It was Sultan Qaboos’ policy of neutrality and noninterference that elevated Oman’s standing as a “Switzerland of the Middle East” and won it respect in the region and beyond. Sultan Haitham, 66, has pledged to follow Sultan Qaboos’ example of promoting peace and dialogue in the Mideast.

Oman maintains healthy relations with the US as well as with regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran, in what many diplomatic observers see as a model of balance. As a young man, Qaboos attended Britain’s elite Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, after which he joined a British infantry battalion in Germany.

British Premier Johnson is to meet with the new sultan and senior Omani officials during his visit, his office said in a statement.

“The UK and Oman have a broad and long-standing bilateral relationship that goes back over 200 years,” it said. “Our countries have deep economic ties and shared defence and security interests.”

The sultan’s death comes amid increased tensions between Tehran and Washington, following the US killing of a top Iranian commander in Iraq that raised fears the region was sliding into war. The late sultan’s standing has been recognized with warm tributes from across the world.

Oman sits on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 21 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”