2019 Roundup: Bahrain Hosts Deal of Century, No More Hides its Relations with Israel

2020-01-06 - 9:08 p

Bahrain Mirror (2019 Roundup): 2019 witnessed new milestones in the normalization of Bahraini-Israeli relations despite widespread popular rejection, most notably was Manama's hosting of the Deal of the Century.

Government officials began the year with Israel's participation in the Warsaw Conference (February 13, 2019), which discussed the challenges of the region before being used by Gulf States to promote cordial relations with Israel.

On the sidelines of the conference, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told an Israeli newspaper that his country would "eventually" build diplomatic relations with Israel.

The Israeli Prime Minister's office leaked video clips of the meeting of Gulf officials, and other officials, including Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, accusing Iran of obstructing peace efforts with Israel, saying "if it weren't for Iran's regional hostility, we would have been much closer to solving this issue with Israel."

Head of Hatnua party and former Israeli FM, Tzipi Livni, criticized Netanyahu's leaking of the video. "I have been holding silent communications with Arab leaders whom we don't have diplomatic ties with and I didn't publish any of these meetings," she noted.

Deal of the Century

The Bahraini government invited Israelis to participate in an entrepreneurship conference organized by the Tamkeen Fund (April 16, 2019) in the capital Manama, ignoring the widespread popular refusal to welcome Israeli speakers.

Sheikh Isa Qassim criticized the invite sent to the delegation to participate in the event and said "normalization and accelerated steps to satisfy the Israeli enemy is an act of crushing the will of the nation and Islam, the will of the people and the nation, and sponsoring the will of Israel."

Bahraini Society Against Normalization rejected Bahrain's steps. Meanwhile. four lawyers filed a lawsuit to prevent giving visas to participants, including Israeli Economy Minister Eli Cohen as well as 45 other Israelis.

As a result of the popular protests, a source told Reuters that the Israeli delegation participating in the entrepreneurship conference cancelled its visit to Bahrain due to security concerns, but it was later revealed that the delegation actually visited Bahrain, participated in the conference and attended a ceremony at the U.S. Embassy on the occasion of a national holiday.

In the context of accelerated normalization steps with Israel, Bahrain hosted on June 25, 2019, with the support of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the Peace for Prosperity Workshop, the economic part of the deal of the century that assumes Palestinians will give up their rights in exchange for economic projects.

The Palestinian Authority announced its refusal to participate in the conference, while Bahrain and Arab capitals witnessed widespread protests. In Baghdad, angry people stormed the Bahraini embassy, causing a diplomatic crisis between Manama and Baghdad.

Al-Wefaq's deputy Secretary-General stressed that "what has happened is a message to all Arab and Islamic peoples, regimes, parties and institutions to precisely and clearly understand the Bahraini regime, its project, priorities and alliances."

Jared Kushner, the US president's son-in-law, described the conference as the opportunity of the century and promotion for "development and investment projects to inject into the region, particularly the West Bank and Gaza Strip," while Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa's speech focused on "wishes to achieve quality, sustainable economic opportunities in all countries of the region."

At the same time the workshop was being held, Al-Wefaq held an counter forum in Beirut in the presence of Arab and Islamic parties and figures, entitled "Sovereignty for Peace and Prosperity", which expressed rejection of the Bahraini government's positions and adherence to the Palestinian cause.

Meeting in Washington

This time Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa met with his Israeli counterpart Yisrael Katz on the sidelines of a conference on religious freedom (July 19, 2019).

About a month after the meeting, the Bahraini minister expressed support for strikes launched by Israel on three Arab capitals: Damascus, Baghdad and Beirut. On Twitter, Al Khalifa said: "Iran is the one who has declared war on us, with its Revolutionary Guard, its Lebanese party, its Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, its Houthi arm in Yemen and others. So one who strikes and destroys the piles of their ammunition is not to be blamed. This is self-defense."

Despite the criticisms directed at his statements, the Foreign Minister once again supported another attack against the resistance in Lebanon and said via his Twitter account: "the attack of a country on another is forbidden by international law. A state standing still watching battles on its borders, endangering its people, is great carelessness by the state in its fulfilment of its responsibilities."

Israel Invited to Maintain Gulf Security

Bahrain once again invited Israel to participate in a Bahrain security conference held in Manama in October. A prominent Israeli official attended the conference, which came as a result of the Middle East Conference held in Warsaw.

Israeli Foreign Ministry official Dana Benvenisti, head of its counter-terrorism department, attended the Manama meeting, which discussed securing navigation in Gulf waters, before opening a permanent headquarters for joint forces at the U.S. naval base.

Bahrain concluded its year with Israel by welcoming former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who visited Manama to participate in the interfaith dialogue conference. Israel announced that its rabbi had met king Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on the sidelines of his participation in the conference.

Arabic Version