The foreign minister of Bahrain, a country with no diplomatic ties to Israel, eulogized former president and prime minister Shimon Peres on Thursday, calling the late Israeli leader “a man of war and a man of the still elusive peace.”
While most Arab countries have declined to comment on Peres’s death, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa joined leaders from around the world on Thursday in expressing praise of the former statesman, who died early Wednesday morning.
“Rest in peace President Shimon Peres, a man of war and a man of the still elusive peace in the Middle East,” Al Khalifa wrote on Twitter.
The tweet is the first official response to Peres’s death from any of the Gulf states.
Rest in Peace President Shimon Peres , a Man of War and a Man of the still elusive Peace in the Middle East
— خالد بن أحمد (@khalidalkhalifa) September 29, 2016
The short eulogy came hours after the Bahraini Foreign Ministry tweeted what appeared to be a section of Al Khalifa’s speech to the United National General Assembly last week, in which he spoke acceptingly about Israel.
“We are entitled, and look forward, to the day when we see an independent state, living in peace and security, side by side with the State of Israel,” the tweet read.
Speaking to world leaders gathered in New York, Al Khlaifa had called on Israel to “react positively” to the Arab Peace Initiative, which offers Israel full diplomatic ties with the Arab world in return for the creation of a Palestinian state.
“We are entitled, and look forward, to the day when we see an independent state, living in peace and security, side by side with the State of Israel. I have no doubt whatsoever that the peoples of the region, including the Arabs and the Israelis, are eager for this day to come and look forward to this just and all-encompassing peace,” he said.
While Jerusalem and Manama have never maintained diplomatic relations, in 2005 King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa boasted to an American official that his state has contacts with Israel “at the intelligence/security level (i.e., with Mossad),” according to a secret US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks. The king also indicated willingness “to move forward in other areas, although it will be difficult for Bahrain to be the first.” The development of “trade contacts,” though, would have to wait for the implementation of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the king said in the cable.
Other WikiLeaks documents show that senior officials from both countries have spoken in recent years, such as a 2007 meeting between then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni and Foreign Minister Al Khalifa in New York. In 2009 Al Khalifa also signaled that he was willing to meet Netanyahu to try to advance the peace process, but ultimately decided not to go ahead with the plan.
Leaders of Arab states are likely to be noticeably absent from Peres’s Friday funeral, which is set to be attended by dozens of prime ministers, presidents and dignitaries from around the world.
Among those planning to attend the funeral at Mount Herzl are US President Barack Obama, US Secretary of State John Kerry, French President Francois Hollande, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German President Joachim Gauck, British Prime Minister Theresa May, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, former British prime minister David Cameron and Britain’s Prince Charles.
Egyptian media reported late Wednesday that President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi would send his foreign minister Sameh Shoukry to represent Egypt at the funeral, and that Sissi had yet to decide whether he would attend, but there was no immediate official confirmation of Shoukry’s attendance.
Jordan’s King Abdullah has yet to comment on the former Israeli president’s death, and there was silence, too, from other Arab capitals, in an echo of the “old” Middle East peace that Peres sought so fervently to change.
Raphael Ahren and Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.