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Backing Arab Peace Initiative, Bahrain appears to reject US push for Israel ties

Tweeting from Manama after sit-down with Bahraini king, Pompeo says he discussed alliance for ‘countering Iran’s malign influence in the region’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in the United Arab Emirates on August 26, 2020 (Twitter)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in the United Arab Emirates on August 26, 2020 (Twitter)

Bahrain, in talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said Wednesday that it was committed to the creation of a Palestinian state, implicitly rejecting his push for Arab countries to swiftly normalize ties with Israel.

Pompeo was in Manama as part of a Middle East trip aimed at building more relationships between the Jewish state and the Arab world following a landmark US-brokered deal with the United Arab Emirates.

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa said he told Pompeo that his country remains committed to the Arab Peace Initiative, which calls for Israel’s complete withdrawal from the territories captured in 1967 in exchange for peace and the full normalization of relations.

“The king stressed the importance of intensifying efforts to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict according to the two-state solution… to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” the official Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported.

The US chief diplomat has said he is hopeful other nations will follow the UAE, which earlier this month became only the third Arab country to agree to normalize relations with the Jewish state.

Bahrain, whose contacts with Israel date back to the 1990s, was the first Gulf country to welcome the UAE move and was considered a front-runner to follow in its footsteps.

In Manama, Pompeo tweeted that he met with King Hamad and his son, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, on Wednesday morning.

“We discussed the importance of building regional peace and stability, including the importance of Gulf unity and countering Iran’s malign influence in the region,” Pompeo wrote.

He also said he discussed efforts to “advance greater unity among Gulf countries.” That was as his plane flew over Qatar on its way to the United Arab Emirates, one of four Arab nations along with Bahrain now boycotting Doha over a yearslong political dispute. Typically, Bahraini and Emirati aircraft avoid Qatari airspace as they’ve closed their own airspace to Qatar Airways.

Bahrain, a small island nation just off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, has a historic Jewish community. The kingdom has slowly encouraged ties to Israel, with two US-based rabbis in 2017 saying King Hamad himself had promoted the idea of ending the boycott of Israel by Arab nations. That boycott had been in place to offer Palestinians support in their efforts to form an independent state.

Like most Gulf countries, Bahrain shares with Israel a common enemy in Iran, which Manama accuses of instigating protests by the nation’s Shiite Muslim community against the ruling Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty.

Bahrain is also home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and remains a close security partner of the US. Pompeo arrived there Tuesday night and met Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, wearing an American-flag-colored face mask amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

After his stop in Bahrain, Pompeo flew to the UAE, where is was expected to meet with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the seven-sheikdom federation.

On his trip through the Mideast, Pompeo has also already stopped in Israel and Sudan.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bump elbows, ahead of making a joint statement to the press after meeting in Jerusalem, August 24, 2020. (DEBBIE HILL / POOL / AFP)

Pompeo’s meetings come after the US-brokered deal, announced August 13, that saw the United Arab Emirates and Israel open diplomatic relations. He has said he is hopeful other nations will follow the UAE in normalizing ties with Israel, despite criticism of the deal from some parts of the Arab world.

But Sudan on Tuesday dashed US hopes for a speedy breakthrough there, saying its transitional government, which replaced ousted strongman Omar al-Bashir last year and is set to rule until elections in 2022, has “no mandate” to take such a weighty step.

On Tuesday, Pompeo spoke by phone with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, who is seen as the driving force behind the Israel-UAE agreement.

The two discussed the historic deal “and the prospects for strengthening it in a way that serves the foundations of peace and stability in the region,” the official Emirati news agency WAM said.

Pompeo’s trip has included him offering a recorded message in Jerusalem supporting US President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign for the Republican National Convention — a speech that cast aside his own advice to American diplomats to be apolitical and bulldozed a long tradition of non-partisanship by previous secretaries of state.

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