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Israel and Bahrain sign MOU on tourism

What happened: Bahrain’s Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister, Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani says his 40-person delegation will return to the gulf state “with lots of hope and ambition”.

  • During his three-day visit, Israel and Bahrain signed a historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at a ceremony in Jerusalem on Wednesday, which includes bilateral cooperation between the governments and the private sector in the field of tourism and calls to develop travel for families, business, and others.
  • Additionally, the MOU establishes a joined committee headed by the countries’ tourism ministers, which will meet regularly to promote joined ventures among travel agents, airlines, tour operators, and all relevant industry representative.
  • Minister Al Zayani said: “I think what fascinated us most looking at Israel is how quickly the economy grew here and how the GDP grew and how it’s primarily driven by innovation and technology. We’d like to learn more from the Israeli private sector.”
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We’ve signed some agreements. We have more to go, and more importantly, I think we understand this is a real peace — a peace between our peoples, a peace that will open economic benefits that were unimaginable just a few months ago, but now are coming to be. And I think this will broaden the circle of peace not only for our own two peoples, but for all countries in the Middle East and perhaps beyond.”
  • Minister Al Zayani also walked through Jerusalem’s Old City during his trip, which he described as a spiritual highlight, but he did not visit the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. “It was a nice feeling. Probably the closest I felt to that was being in Mecca and Medina, as a Muslim,” he said.

Context: Al Zayani is the second Bahraini minister to visit Israeli since the signing of the Abraham Accords on 15 September. Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al Zayani spent around 12 hours in Jerusalem last month.

  • Trade between both countries is expected to be worth around $220m in 2021, not including defence and tourism deals. The Israeli Economy Ministry’s trade forecast anticipates growth in Israeli exports to Bahrain of diamonds and refined metals for chemicals, and of imports of oil and aluminium from Bahrain.
  • Al Zayani suggested that Bahrain’s imports from Israel will not be subject to distinctions between products made inside Israel and those from settlements in the West Bank. His remarks were condemned by Wasel Abu Youssef of the Palestine Liberation Organization as “contradicting international and UN resolutions”.
  • Yesterday, Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met secretly with his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi, in what is believed to be the first such meeting between both ministries for several years.
  • According to a statement from Jordan’s foreign ministry, Safadi and Ashkenazi discussed “a number of pending concerns, including water, lifting restrictions on Jordanian exports to the West Bank, Jordanian provision of additional electricity to the Palestinian Authority, and organising movement through border crossings in light of their closure due to the coronavirus pandemic”.
  • The statement also said that Safadi told Ashkenazi that Israel must stop all measures that are undermining the peace process and two-state solution, including the status quo at the Temple Mount.
  • Also yesterday, female Israeli diplomats joined other top women diplomats from the US, Bahrain, and the UAE in a first-of-a-kind session to discuss the role of women in diplomacy, as well as the need for the active involvement of women in promoting peace and security in the Middle East and beyond. The event, held by “Women in Diplomacy Network,” Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva Meirav Eilon Shahar; Ambassador Houda Nonoo, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain and former ambassador to the United States; and United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United Nations Lana Nusseibeh.

Looking ahead: Bahraini carrier Gulf Air is scheduled to begin flights to Tel Aviv from 7 January, with shipping to follow soon after.

  • Prime Minister Netanyahu is hoping to make his first official visit to both UAE and Bahrain later this month, after which a slew of Israeli politicians are then expected to make similar trips

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