Bahrain won’t have to abolish Israel boycott law — because it did so years ago

As opposed to UAE, tiny island kingdom withdrew legislation in 2005 after inking free-trade agreement with US; Manama currently busy rescinding other anti-Israel rules

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Jared Kushner (right) meets Bahrain's king and crown prince in Manama in early September, 2020, in an image posted by Ivanka Trump on September 12 (Twitter)
Jared Kushner (right) meets Bahrain's king and crown prince in Manama in early September, 2020, in an image posted by Ivanka Trump on September 12 (Twitter)

Unlike the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain does not have to abolish its law mandating the boycotting of Israel ahead of Tuesday’s historic signing of the so-called Abraham Accord — because it did so years ago.

Still, officials in Manama immediately started working on removing certain rules and regulations that curtain formal interactions with Israel after Friday’s announcement that their country was normalizing relations with the Jewish state, according to diplomatic sources.

On Monday morning, Bahrain’s minister of industry, commerce and tourism, Zayed Bin Rashid Alzayani, spoke with Israeli Minister of Regional Cooperation Ofir Akunis.

“The ministers had a good conversation, congratulated each other on the peace deal being signed tomorrow, and agreed to meet to further cooperation between their ministries,” according to Akunis’s office.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani arrived in Washington Monday morning to participate in the signing of the UAE-Israel peace agreement. He and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will also sign a bilateral “Declaration of Peace.”

Bahrain, a tiny island kingdom closely aligned with Saudi Arabia, formally withdrew its boycott of the Jewish state some 15 years ago, a short while after signing a free-trade agreement with the US. The agreement, which was signed by US president George W. Bush in May 2004, does not specifically refer to Israel-Bahrain ties but the issue was discussed in the negotiations leading to the pact.

“Bahrain recognizes the need to withdraw the primary boycott against Israel and is developing the means to achieve this,” the country’s then-finance minister Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa said in September 2005.

The issue had arisen several times during the negations leading up the signing of the agreement. At a June 2003 press conference, Bahrain’s Abdullah Saif said his country was a member of the World Trade Organizations, which bans all forms of economic boycotts.

The Arab League’s boycott of Israel “has been raised” but the matter will become “totally irrelevant” due to the Israel-Palestinian peace process, he said. “This is now at the last stage. As you know, the boycott goes through various stages and now it is almost on the last stage at the Arab League and so Bahrain as a member of the Arab League really encourages this.”

Bahrain and five other Arab Gulf states, including the UAE, had stopped enforcing secondary and tertiary boycotts of Israel as early as September 1994, but continued to eschew direct contacts with the Jewish state.

A few days after the August 13 announcement about the normalization of ties with Israel, the UAE issued a decree that formally abolished a law boycotting Israel and allowing trade and financial agreements between the two nations.

An Emirati official stands near an El Al plane that carried a US-Israeli delegation to the UAE following a normalization accord, upon its arrival at the Abu Dhabi airport, in the first-ever direct flight from Israel to the UAE, on August 31, 2020. (KARIM SAHIB / AFP)

The August 29 decision came on the orders of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the Emirates’ leader, according state-run WAM news agency.

WAM said the new decree allows Israelis and Israeli firms to do business in the UAE and allows for the purchase and trade of Israeli goods.

“The decree of the new law comes within the UAE’s efforts to expand diplomatic and commercial cooperation with Israel,” WAM said at the time. It lays out “a roadmap toward launching joint cooperation, leading to bilateral relations by stimulating economic growth and promoting technological innovation.”

Netanyahu hailed the move as “an important step in promoting prosperity and peace in the region.”

Some Israeli firms had already signed deals with Emirati counterparts. But the repeal of the law widens the likelihood of other joint ventures, such as in aviation, banking, and finance.

The decree formally eliminated a 1972 law on the UAE’s books since just after the country’s formation. That law mirrored the widely held stance by Arab nations at that time that recognition of Israel would only come after the Palestinians had an independent state of their own.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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