Bahrain - Israel Relations
Bahrain has become the latest Arab nation to agree to normalise ties with Israel as part of a broader diplomatic push by US President Donald Trump and his administration. In a joint statement, the United States, Bahrain and Israel said the agreement was reached after Trump spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on 11 September 2020.
"This is a historic breakthrough to further peace in the Middle East. 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," a joint statement of the US, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and Israel read.
The agreement came only a month after the United Arab Emirates became the first Gulf Arab country to reach a deal on normalising relations with Israel, capping years of discreet contacts between the two countries in commerce and technology. Bahrain is the fourth Arab nation to reach such a deal with Israel after Egypt, Jordan and the UAE. Israel's relations with the Gulf is a function of the Gulf Arabs' fear of Iran, but also as due to the Arabs' belief in Israeli influence in Washington.
The Government of Bahrain did not require participation in or cooperation with the Arab League Boycott (ALB), nor did it request that U.S. firms comply with boycott requirements. Bahrain eliminated all aspects of the secondary and tertiary boycotts in 1994, following the GCC's announced policy of non-adherence to those aspects. There had been a tremendous reduction in the number of Bahraini uses of boycott language in business documents over the following decade. Although the boycott law of 1963 remained on the books, Bahrain ceased to observe the secondary and tertiary aspects in 1994. The sole vehicle for enforcement of the primary aspect, the boycott office, was closed in September 2005.
Minister of Finance Shaikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa on September 5, 2005 sent a letter to USTR Portman reaffirming that the secondary and tertiary boycotts of Israel have been abolished. Shaikh Ahmed's letter noted that "Bahrain recognizes the need to dismantle the primary boycott of Israel and is beginning efforts to achieve that goal."
In 2006 Shia clerics led demonstrations expressing their solidarity with the Palestinian and Lebanese people. Most Bahraini Shia reportedly admire Nasrallah for what he has done "because this is the only language Israel understands." While the Sunni Bahraini leadership will approach the issue in lock-step with such key allies as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, the government faced a potentially tricky domestic situation, especially if a further escalation arouses strong passions in the country's majority Shia population.
Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmad Al Khalifa delivered a speech at the UN General Assembly 27 September 2008 that included a call for a new regional organization "that would include all states in the Middle East, without exception, to discuss long-standing issues openly and frankly, in the hope of reaching a stable and durable understanding between all parties." One of the chief purposes of the proposal was to provide a "first step" toward contact with Israel for governments that had no political ties with Tel Aviv. Many in local and regional media have condemned Shaikh Khalid for including Israel in his proposal. Members of Bahrain's elected lower house of parliament -- both Sunni supporters of the government and Shi'a oppositionists -- piled on and vowed to summon him before parliament to explain himself. The proposal never came to much, but it was an indicator of Bahrain's desire to be seen as a creative contributor to Arab-Israeli diplomacy.
The 17 July 1998 op-ed by Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa in the Washington Post struck a nerve with the public in Bahrain. Bahrain never had formal relations with Israel, and public contacts since March 2009 had been limited to the travel to Tel Aviv airport of Bahraini officials to facilitate the release of Bahraini Islamists detained while trying to deliver relief to Gaza in July. However, the Crown Prince's July 2009 Washington Post piece revived public debate on Bahrain's policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and spawned many rumors. Energized, and perhaps emboldened, by his recent discussions with President Obama, Vice President Biden, and others in Washington, Sheikh Salman has taken a bold step and placed himself ahead of public opinion.
Bahraini elites mustered only muted praise for the Crown Prince's willingness to lead. The was a sharp divide between the elites and the street on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. On the one hand, the leaders in government and business recognize that there can be no progress without some degree of interaction with Israel. On the other hand, the Crown Prince's editorial was unpopular, and elected parliamentarians understand what plays well with their constituents. The debate in parliament was punctuated by verbose declarations of support for the Palestinian people and denunciation of Israeli "atrocities."
King Hamad presided over a genteel tug-of-war between modernizers and reactionaries in his own Al-Khalifa clan. The modernizing elements (led by his son, Crown Prince Salman, and Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid) were actively seeking a means by which to outflank and marginalize extremists, both within Bahrain and in the Arab world. The Crown Prince believed that as long as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict festered, it would provide fuel to the conservative Sunni elements within Bahrain that oppose the openness and reform that he saw as indispensable for the country's growth and prosperity. It also empowered Hamas, Hizballah and Iran.
Bahrain’s declaration of a peace deal with Israel will enhance regional security and stability and stems from the firm belief in coexistence and tolerance between nations, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani told Al Arabiya 12 September 2020. “We congratulate His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa for his wise vision, the courageous and historic decision to declare support for peace between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the state of Israel after the phone call that took place yesterday between US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. We also congratulate the honorable people of Bahrain for their support, belief and conviction that peace is a strategic choice for the nation. His majesty’s vision stems from a firm belief in coexistence and tolerance between nations,” al-Zayani said.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) condemned the September 2020 Bahrain-Israel normalisation deal as another betrayal by an Arab state. The agreement was "a stab in the back of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people", likr the UAE-Israel deal announced last month, Ahmad Majdalani, social affairs minister in the occupied West Bank-based PA, said. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said the deal was an "aggression" that dealt "serious prejudice" to the Palestinian cause. Arab countries had long maintained that a peace deal with Israel would only come after the issue of Palestine was resolved. The Palestinian Authority condemned the latest development, saying it "blows up the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative." The Authority recalled its ambassador to Bahrain in protest.
The UAE welcomed the decision by Bahrain and Israel to establish relations, saying that it hoped it would have a positive effect on peace and cooperation in the region and around the world. "The move represents a significant step towards an era of security and prosperity ... (and) would expand the scope of economic, cultural, scientific, and diplomatic avenues of cooperation," the UAE foreign ministry said in a statement. On September 15, the UAE formally normalised ties with Israel, a move that was announced last month. Bahrain and Israel will sign a declaration on the same day.
Following the agreement, Iran said Bahrain was now partner to the "crimes" of Israel. "The rulers of Bahrain will from now on be partners to the crimes of the Zionist regime as a constant threat to the security of the region and the world of Islam," the foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said he appreciated the "important step" Israel and Bahrain had taken in agreeing to establish 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," el-Sisi said on Twitter.
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 towards Palestine and its efforts to make the occupation of Palestinian lands permanent," the ministry statement said.
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. Safadi added that Israel should stop all its procedures to undermine the two-state solution, and end the illegal occupation of the Palestinian lands.