Bahrain Normalizes Ties With Israel Weeks After UAE Deal

Joint statement by the United States, Israel and Bahrain lauds 'positive transformation' in the region ■ Both agreements to be signed at the White House on Tuesday

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks with Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa during his visit to Manama, Bahrain, August 26, 2020.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks with Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa during his visit to Manama, Bahrain, August 26, 2020.Credit: HANDOUT/Reuters

Bahrain has agreed to normalize ties with Israel, the countries announced on Friday in a joint statement along with the United States.

According to the statement, Bahrain and Israel agreed to establish "full diplomatic relations" in a "historic breakthrough to further peace in the Middle East."

Israel and Bahrain will "continue in their efforts in this regard to achieve a just, comprehensive, and enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to enable the Palestinian people to realize their full potential."

"Opening direct dialogue and ties between these two dynamic societies and advanced economies will continue the positive transformation of the Middle East and increase stability, security, and prosperity in the region," it said.

The statement said Bahrain accepted U.S. President Donald Trump's invitation to join Israel and the UAE at the signing ceremony in Washington on Tuesday. Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani will be signing the agreement with Israel alongside the UAE's Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa confirmed the statement to the state news agency BNA, adding that peace between Israelis and Palestinians should be based on a two-state solution.

The agreement marks a "new era of peace", Netanyahu said on Friday after Trump announced the new deal. "For many long years, we invested in peace, and now peace will invest in us, will bring about truly major investments in Israel's economy - and that is very important," Netanyahu said in a video statement.

Trump told reporters at the White House that “There’s no more powerful response to the hatred that spawned 9/11 than this agreement.” He said the sides in the Middle East were "tired of fighting" and indicated that "good things" might happen with regards to the Palestinians.

"You're going to have the Palestinians in a very good position, they're going to want to come in because all of their friends are in," Trump said.

The White House said Israel and Bahrain "have committed to begin the exchange of embassies and ambassadors, start direct flights between their countries, and launch cooperation initiatives across a broad range of sectors."

Bahrein's Information Minister Ali bin Mohammed Al Romaihi called the agreement a "historic, significant step toward peace in the region" in a statement. "All historical precedents confirm that all the Kingdom's initiatives and decisions have always been in the interest of the Palestinian people and protecting them, and no one can outbid the Kingdom in this regard,” Al Romaihi added.

Bahrain, like most of the Arab world, long rejected diplomatic ties with Israel in the absence of a peace deal establishing a Palestinian state on lands captured by Israel in 1967.

A Shia majority country ruled by a Sunni minority, Bahrein may experience more popular opposition to the deal with Israel than the UAE. Shortly after the agreement was announced, "Bahrainis against normalization" was reportedly trending high on Bahraini Twitter. 

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President of Bahrain Forum for Human Rights Baqer Darwish said that the Bahraini people view Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and that "Any normalization with Israel is betrayal."    

In addition, many Bahraini intellectuals, human rights activists, and opposition activists, including former members of parliament, expressed their opposition to the normalization with Israel, stressing that the move represents the leadership and not the people.   

The Palestinians say the decision to establish ties with Israel was taken by inner circles in Bahrain's royal family.  

The agreement will likely be seen as a further setback to the Palestinians who tried unsuccessfully to have the Arab League condemn normalization with Israel until they have secured an independent state. That was one of the few cards still held by Palestinians in negotiations as peace talks remain stalled.

'Betrayal of the Palestinian cause'

Palestinians fear the moves by the UAE and now Bahrain will weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position that calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab countries.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization said in a statement that the agreement with Bahrain is "another treacherous stab in the back for the Palestinian cause."

"By normalizing ties with the occupation, Bahrain is breaking all Arab resolutions. It is rejected, condemned and it represents a betrayal of the Palestinian cause," said Wassel Abu Youssef, a senior PLO official in Ramallah.

Hamas commented that the deal is an implementation of Trump's Middle East Peace Plan, which aims to bring an end to the Palestinian cause.  

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner noted that the agreement is the second Israel has reached with an Arab country in 30 days after having made peace with only two Arab nations — Egypt and Jordan — in 72 years of its independence.

“This is very fast,” Kushner told The Associated Press. “The region is responding very favorably to the UAE deal and hopefully it’s a sign that even more will come.”

Hend Al Otaiba, Director of Strategic Communication at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, congratulated the agreement between Israel and Bahrain. "Today marks another significant and historic achievement which will contribute enormously to the stability and prosperity of the region," she tweeted. 

Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, a senior diplomatic adviser to the Bahraini government who served as foreign minister until February, said the agreement serves as an example of coexistence for the entire region and sends a "positive and encouraging message to the people of Israel that a just and comprehensive peace with the Palestinians is the best path forward and truly serves their interests." 

Ebrahim Dahood Nonoo, the head of the Jewish community in Bahrain remarked: “We have both a synagogue and a cemetery operational to this day. This is a historic moment that we have never expected to see in our lifetime." 

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi said on Twitter he appreciates the "important step" of Israel and Bahrain establishing diplomatic relations. The agreement would help establish "stability and peace in the Middle East, in a way that achieves a just and permanent settlement of the Palestinian issue," he added.

Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in a statement that the necessary steps to achieve a fair and comprehensive peace in the region should come from Israel. "Israel should stop all its procedures to undermine the two-states solution, and end the illegal occupation of the Palestinian lands," he said.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry strongly condemned Bahrain's decision  to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, adding it will deal a fresh blow to efforts to defend the Palestinian cause.

"It will further encourage Israel to continue illegitimate practices toward Palestine and its efforts to make the occupation of Palestinian lands permanent," the ministry statement said.

A special adviser on international affairs to the speaker of Iran’s parliament tweeted the agreement is a great betrayal to the Islamic cause and Palestinians. Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, also a former deputy foreign minister, said "The imprudent leaders in UAE, #Bahrain must not pave the way for the Zionist schemes. They should learn lessons from history. Tomorrow is late! The US lifeline has worn out for years."

Iran’s foreign ministry described Bahrain’s move to establish relations with Israel as shameful, state television reported on Saturday. "The rulers of Bahrain will from now on be complicit in the crimes of the Zionist regime which is a threat to the security of the region and the Muslim world,” the broadcaster quoted a foreign ministry statement as saying. 

Last week, Bahrain announced that flights between Israel and the United Arab Emirates will be allowed to fly through its airspace.

Bahrain, a small island state, is a close ally of Saudi Arabia and the site of the U.S. Navy's regional headquarters. Riyadh in 2011 sent troops to Bahrain to help quell an uprising and, alongside Kuwait and the UAE, in 2018 offered Bahrain a $10 billion economic bailout.

The Trump administration has tried to coax other Sunni Arab countries concerned about Iran to engage with Israel. The most powerful of those, Saudi Arabia, has signaled it is not ready. Last week, Saudi Arabia’s ruler King Salman bin Abdulaziz told Trump there would be no normalization with Israel without Palestinian statehood.

Last year, Bahrain hosted in its capital Manama the Trump administration's Peace to Prosperity economic conference, as part of the president's Middle East peace proposal. The conference brought to light years of unofficial ties between Jerusalem and Manama. 

Jack Khoury, The Associated Press and DPA contributed to this report. 

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