Dec 3, 2019

Scoop: U.S. pushing Arab states on non-belligerence pacts with Israel

Netanyahu, Trump and Pence at the White House. Photo: Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images

The White House approached several Arab states to encourage them to reach non-belligerence agreements with Israel, according to Israeli, Arab and U.S. sources.

Why it matters: One of the Trump administration’s main goals in the Middle East has been to promote the normalization of ties between Israel and the Gulf states. Non-belligerence agreements are an interim step between the secret relations Israel has with those countries now and full diplomatic relations.

The Israeli, Arab and U.S. sources tell me President Trump’s deputy national security adviser, Victoria Coates, met last week with the ambassadors of the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Morocco in Washington. All four countries have secret contacts and cooperation with Israel but no diplomatic relations.

  • Coates raised the initiative for non-belligerence agreements, told them the Trump administration supports such a move and asked what their positions were.
  • The Arab ambassadors said they would report back to their capitals and return soon with an answer. 

That White House request builds off of an initiative led by Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, Israeli officials say.

  • Katz raised the idea in a September meeting at the UN with Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi and Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash.

The latest: On Monday and Tuesday of this week, a U.S. interagency team led by Coates met at the White House with an Israeli delegation led by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The discussions focused on the initiative for non-belligerence agreements.

  • Although the White House is helping to push the initiative, the talks are in a preliminary stage.
  • The fact that Israel has an interim government and might be headed for yet another election — and also the desire from the Arab states for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to precede closer relations — will make implementation very difficult.

A senior Trump administration official said the U.S. "would certainly welcome expanding relationships between our critical allies and partners in the Middle East," but would not comment on "private diplomatic conversations" and had nothing to announce at this time.

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