Who’s Helping Make the ‘Deal of the Century’?

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Performers at a horse show in Oman (Illustrative photo: Francois Nel/Getty Images)
Performers at a horse show in Oman (Illustrative photo: Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Who’s helping make President Trump’s “Deal of the Century?”

There have been a few hints: According to reports, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas ordered his underlings to not criticize the Sultanate of Oman for its recent hosting of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu (even though some of them did voice their criticisms).  Now we know why Abbas issued that order.

On November 6, 2018, Fathi Mahmoud wrote in the Egypt’s Al-Ahram that Abbas himself visited Oman the day before Netanyahu did. Mahmoud deduced from this that something is afoot along the lines of a Palestinian acceptance of some sort of Israeli-PA “Deal of the Century.”

To understand why the Sultanate of Oman would be involved as a mediator for a U.S.-brokered peace treaty between Israel and the PA, a little background is in order.

The Sultanate of Oman adheres to the Ibadi sect of Islam, which is neither Sunni nor Shiite. The Ibadis claim to have broken off from “mainstream” Islam prior to the Sunni-Shiite split in the mid-7th century. Lacking the element of aggressive jihad in their theology, throughout history Oman has remained aloof from all Middle East wars and the Sunni-Shiite squabbles. Oman is also one of the few Arab countries to not have been affected by the “Arab Spring.”

According to Mahmoud, in the late 20th century, Oman emerged as a quiet, behind-the-scenes peace-maker.  As an example of Oman’s “steady course” and moderate views, Mahmoud notes the country’s position vis-à-vis Egypt after Egypt signed the Camp David accords with Israel.

When the Arab League voted to kick Egypt out of the organization (even though the league’s headquarters were in Cairo), Oman was the only country to vote with Egypt.  When the league then proposed moving its headquarters to Tunis, Oman once again voted against the move.

Oman also played a role in settling the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Mahmoud says that if a new agreement between the U.S. and Iran is ever discussed, Oman will likely play a role in bringing the two sides together because it maintains good relations with Tehran.

To further understand Oman’s moderate nature and sudden appearance as a peace-maker rather than as just an aloof bystander, one must give credit to its current ruler Sultan Qaboos, who, despite being a despot in many ways, is more openly affiliated with Western values than most Islamic rulers.

Homosexuality is punishable by death in Islamic jurisprudence, yet in Oman, the “offense” is punishable by up to three years in prison (the sultan himself is believed to be a homosexual). Cases are only prosecuted if they create an open scandal.

The sultan is a huge fan of classical music, particularly that of Bach. (He is said to have once passed a law that no radio station in his country was allowed to play any music except classical music prior to 12:00 noon.)  The sultan also decreed that every town and village in his country, no matter how remote, would have a steady supply of clean drinking water.  Oil revenues gave him the power to make that dream a reality.

Mahmoud closed his editorial by hinting that Oman’s current efforts, including the possibility of mediating between Israel and Abbas, are not limited to the hoped-for Israeli-Palestinian peace, but are aimed at achieving peace and stability throughout the entire inflamed region — a peace promoted by the “Deal of the Century” and underwritten by economic cooperation.

But, of course, like everything in the Middle East, the sands can shift at any moment in the wrong direction and blow the best laid plans to the wind.



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Barry Webb

Barry Webb worked for 25 years as an analyst and Arabic translator for the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies where he held top secret clearances. Along with two colleagues, he compiled the nation’s first terrorism data base. He is the author of "Confessions of an (Ex) NSA Spy: Why America and its allies are losing the war on terror." His soon to-be-published book is titled "Clash of Civilizations 2.0: The Arab/Islamic View."