Israeli Parliament Overwhelmingly Approves Bahrain Normalization Deal

Netanyahu and Gantz call on Palestinians to 'abandon their illusions,' while lawmakers from Arab-majority parties vote against the agreement

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Israel's national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, left, bumps elbows with Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani after signing an agreement in Manama, Bahrain, October 18, 2020.
Israel's national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, left, bumps elbows with Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani after signing an agreement in Manama, Bahrain, October 18, 2020.Credit: Ronen Zvulun / AP

Israel’s parliament on Tuesday approved a U.S.-brokered deal establishing formal relations with Bahrain, by a vote of 62 lawmakers in favor and 14 opposed.

Almost 80 speakers took part in the protracted debate in the Knesset, before it approved the joint declaration establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries. Only 14 lawmakers, all from the Arab-majority four-way alliance Joint List, voted against the bill. It will now return to the cabinet to be finalized. 

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The vote commenced at 2 P.M. at the Knesset, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered remarks ahead of the vote in which he called the accords, brokered by the Trump administration, a historic moment, saying “Together we will stand as a wall opposite Iranian-led radical Islam.”

He added: "The Palestinian veto simply held up peace. Since the Balfour Declaration, the Palestinians have been demanding a return to ‘67 [borders], flooding Israel with refugees and dividing Jerusalem. Demands that no government in Israel agrees with. If we become dependent on Palestinian refusal, we will have to wait many more years."

Netanyahu also referred to real-world outcomes of the recent normalization deals with the UAE and Sudan: "An official delegation of Israeli business leaders is currently in Dubai. Agricultural produce marked with the flag of Israel is being sold in the UAE. Flights from Israel are passing over Sudanese skies and flights to India are becoming shorter and cheaper over Saudi skies."

Alternative Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz also addressed the Knesset ahead of the vote. He expressed his confidence that President-elect Joe Biden would continue to advance peace processes in the region. “Under Biden's leadership, the U.S. administration will continue to spearhead additional agreements” Gantz said, adding that Israel will continue to play a key role in any processes to bring stability to the Middle East.

He called on Saudi Arabian leadership to work toward advancing relations with Israel, and emphasized that the normalization deals with the UAE and Bahrain, deemed the Abraham Accords, can be expanded to other countries in the region.

Gantz addressed the Palestinian leadership, saying it has “unfortunately not yet understood that the time has come to put away the excuses, return to the negotiating table, coordinate security and work together to create solutions.” He called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the leadership to “abandon policy illusions and act for another better reality for both peoples,” saying that "it's possible to change reality.”

Also speaking at the Knesset, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi thanked Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, as well as his counterpart Abdullatif al-Zayani, for "The leadership and courage they demonstrated in leading the process to establish relations [with Israel] and their genuine contribution to changing the Middle East reality."

Al-Zayani is expected to visit Israel soon.

In October, the Israeli government had ratified the declaration to normalize ties with Bahrain, pending Knesset approval, as well as the normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates.

The wording of the Bahrain joint declaration is identical to the one published after the deal was first signed. The document, signed by National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry, Alon Ushpiz, and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, includes general declarations of non-aggression, the intent to promote common values and civilian cooperation in the areas of air traffic, trade, energy, science, health and others.

The document of intent is not a full peace agreement such as the one signed with the UAE, due to harsh internal criticism of the agreement in Bahrain. The official name of the document is “a joint communique on the establishment of diplomatic, peaceful and friendly relations.”

The declaration says that “The two sides are hereby establishing diplomatic relations, peaceful and friendly ties and full bilateral relations. The two sides will set up embassies and exchange resident ambassadors at their earliest convenience.” The document further states that Israel and Bahrain will promote dialogue, reciprocal relations and plans common to their peoples, acting together to combat extremism, terror, incitement and the adopting of extremist positions.” 

Netanyahu also intends to bring an agreement with Sudan for ratification, contingent on negotiations with Sudan ending favorably.

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