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Israel and Bahrain sign agreement to open diplomatic relations

What happened: A joint Israeli-US delegation flew to Bahrain yesterday for the signing of a joint communique between Israel and Bahrain on establishing diplomatic relations.

  • The Israeli delegation was led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Foreign Ministry director general Alon Ushpiz. They were joined by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the White House envoy to the peace process, Avi Berkowitz.
  • Ben-Shabbat and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani signed a “Joint Communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic, peaceful, and friendly relations.” The two countries promised not to take hostile actions against one another and to act against hostile actions by third countries.
  • The two countries also signed eight separate Memorandum of Understandings in economic cooperation, civil aviation, cooperation between the ministries of finance, communications and post, agriculture, cooperation between the ministries of foreign affairs, exemption of visa requirements for diplomats and cooperation between their respective Chambers of Commerce.
  • At the welcoming ceremony at the airport, Bahraini Foreign Minister Al Zayani said: “Today we start implementing the peace declaration which we signed in Washington. This approach is the most efficient one to achieve peace in the Middle East.”
  • This morning, the first commercial flight from the UAE, a Boeing 787 from Etihad Airlines landed in Israel.

Context: Bahrain requested that it only sign an interim agreement and not a fully-fledged peace treaty with Israel, like the UAE did earlier this month.

  • A Bahraini foreign ministry official said: “In contrast to the UAE we prefer to take more measured steps and to sign a framework agreement at this stage, rather than a full peace treaty. We have seen the criticism that has emerged in Bahrain and other Arab countries as a result of the normalisation agreements with Israel and we are taking them into account. But we will not derail the process of establishing relations between the countries ahead of a full peace treaty that will include full diplomatic relations, exchange of ambassadors, opening embassies and a range of diplomatic, economic, business and tourism agreements with Israel.”
  • Israeli officials have also noted the opposition to normalisation within Bahrain, which has a Shi’ite Muslim majority but ruled by a Sunni monarchy.
  • There has been a gradual thawing of relations between the two countries. In 2005 Bahrain abandoned its boycott of Israel in exchange for a free trade agreement with the US.
  • Bahrain has a small Jewish community and from 2008-2013 Jewish Houda Nonoo served as the Bahraini ambassador in Washington. She was the first Jewish ambassador of any Middle Eastern Arab country and the first female Bahraini ambassador to the US.
  • In June 2019 Bahrain hosted the White House Peace to Prosperity conference, where the Trump administration presented the $50bn economic part of its peace plan to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • In July 2019 Bahraini and Israeli foreign ministers met publicly for the first time in Washington at a US State Department event on religious freedom.
  • Over the last three years, there have been several cultural exchange visits. An interfaith group from Bahrain first travelled to Israel in December 2017. Former Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar visited Bahrain in December 2019 to participate in an interfaith forum alongside religious leaders from Kuwait, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan.

 

Looking forward: After just seven hours in Manama, the Israeli delegation returned home, while the American delegation went on to the Emirates. They will then accompany a delegation from the UAE to Israel on Tuesday.

  • On Tuesday Israel and the UAE will sign an agreement to allow 28 weekly commercial flights between Ben Gurion airport, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
  • On the plane journey Secretary Mnuchin told accompanying Israeli media that the US are “working on other deals, hopefully there will be other announcements. Our expectation is obviously that Trump wins and this continues… there’s a lot more in the works.” He Added: “I hope that whoever wins president of the United States will continue in that strategy.”
  • An official in Sudan’s Foreign Ministry has said that there were signs of understandings ahead of steps to normalise relations with Israel.  Khartoum was expecting the US to declare shortly, possibly today, the removal of Sudan from the list of states that sponsor terrorism.


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