Trump announces Bahrain-Israel normalisation after three-way call

A joint statement said the three parties will continue efforts “to achieve a just, comprehensive, and enduring resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Friday 11/09/2020
US Vice President Mike Pence and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner applaud US President Donald Trump after announcement of the Bahrain-Israel normalisation agreement. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - Bahrain has become the latest Arab country to agree to normalise ties with Israel as part of a broader diplomatic push by President Donald Trump and his administration to fully integrate the Jewish state into the Middle East.

Trump announced the agreement on Friday, following a three-way phone call he had with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The three leaders also issued a brief six-paragraph joint statement, attesting to the deal.

“Another HISTORIC breakthrough today!” Trump tweeted.

Bahraini news agency BNA said the king of Bahrain reiterated the necessity of reaching a fair and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, based on the two state solution, in his call with US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

The announcement, made on the 19th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, came less than a week before Trump hosts a White House ceremony to mark the establishment of full relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain’s foreign minister will attend the event.

“There’s no more powerful response to the hatred that spawned 9/11 than this agreement,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

The move represents another diplomatic win for Trump less than two months before the presidential election and an opportunity to shore up support among pro-Israel evangelical Christians. Just last week, Trump announced agreements in principle for Kosovo to recognize Israel and for Serbia to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“This is a historic breakthrough to further peace in the Middle East,” Trump, Netanyahu and King Hamad said in the statement. “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.”

Like the UAE agreement, Friday’s Bahrain-Israel deal will normalise diplomatic, commercial, security and other relations between the two countries. Bahrain, along with Saudi Arabia, had already dropped a prohibition on Israeli flights using its airspace. Saudi acquiescence to the agreements has been considered key to the deals.

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 favourably to the UAE deal and hopefully it’s a sign that even more will come.”

Netanyahu welcomed the agreement and thanked Trump. “It took us 26 years between the second peace agreement with an Arab country and the third, but only 29 days between the third and the fourth, and there will be more,” he said, referring to the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan and the more recent agreements.”

The joint statement said the parties will continue efforts “to achieve a just, comprehensive, and enduring resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to enable the Palestinian people to realise their full potential.”

The agreement makes Bahrain the fourth Arab country, after Egypt, Jordan and the UAE, to have full diplomatic ties with Israel. Other Arab nations believed to be on the cusp of fully recognising Israel include Oman and Sudan. While tacitly blessing the deals Saudi Arabia, the regional power player, is not expected to move as quickly.

The agreement could give a boost to Netanyahu, who was indicted on corruption charges last year. Deals with Gulf Arab states “are the direct result of the policy that I have led for two decades,” namely “peace for peace, peace through strength,” Netanyahu has said.

The Israeli-UAE deal required Israel to halt its contentious plan to annex occupied West Bank land sought by the Palestinians. Telephone calls soon began working between the nations as they continue to discuss other deals, including direct flights.

While the UAE’s population remains small and the federation has no tradition of standing up to the country’s autocracy, Bahrain represents a far-different country.

Just off the coast of Saudi Arabia, the island of Bahrain is among the world’s smallest countries, only about 760 square kilometers. Bahrain’s location in the Arabian Gulf long has made it a trading stop and a naval defensive position. The island is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and a recently-built British naval base.

Bahrain is acutely aware of threats posed by Iran. Manama’s rulers have blamed Iran for arming militants on the island. Iranian authorities have denied the accusations, though weapons experts suggest explosives found there bear similarities to others linked to Iran.

Bahrain’s royal family and officials have come out in support of the Israel-UAE agreement. However, civil society groups and others have condemned the move and warned the monarchy not to follow in UAE’s footsteps — despite Bahrain’s years-long flirtation with Israel and Jewish leaders. Unlike the Emirates, Jews had a historical presence on the island and some still live there.

Bahrain has relied on economic and security support from other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, particularly neighboring Saudi Arabia. In that way, Bahrain has always followed in lockstep with Riyadh, meaning normalisation with Israel likely got the kingdom’s approval.