Cabinet ratifies Bahrain normalization deal; PM hails result of ‘long effort’

Netanyahu thanks ‘all those who openly and secretly assisted’ as ministers vote in favor of establishing diplomatic relations with tiny Gulf kingdom

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani amd Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben Shabbat, at the signing ceremony of a peace agreement between Israel and Bahrain, in Manama, October 18, 2020. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)
Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani amd Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben Shabbat, at the signing ceremony of a peace agreement between Israel and Bahrain, in Manama, October 18, 2020. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

The cabinet on Sunday voted unanimously to ratify the “Joint Communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic, peaceful, and friendly relations” with the Kingdom of Bahrain, concluding a normalization process that the two countries began roughly two months ago.

“The establishment of peace and normalization with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan constitute a major achievement for the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting, minutes before the vote.

“This is the result of a long effort we have led for years, an effort to expand the circle of peace, an effort to bring true peace, an effort to bring peace for peace,” he added.

The prime minister thanked US President Donald Trump, Bahraini King Hamed bin Isa al-Khalifa, “and all those who openly and secretly assisted in the realization of these historic steps.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Bahraini government ratified the agreement several weeks ago.

Last Tuesday, the Knesset approved Israel’s agreement on the establishment of diplomatic relations with Bahrain with an overwhelming majority. Sixty-two lawmakers voted in favor; 14 — all from the predominantly-Arab Joint List party — opposed the agreement. There were no abstentions.

“Bahrain is a small country but it has big aspirations,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of the Knesset debate.

This picture from June 25, 2019, shows a general view of the Four Seasons Hotel (R) in the Bahraini capital Manama, where the “Peace to Prosperity” Workshop is taking place. (Stringer/AFP)

He also vowed that additional Arab countries will soon follow suit in “the normalization that is being developed” with Israel.

“The buds of normalization are already there, waiting to bloom,” Netanyahu said. “I will continue with the policy I have charted​. I am convinced that the blossoming will be seen above the surface as well, and there will be more countries that will join the circle of peace.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset plenum during a vote on the normalization deal with Bahrain, November 10, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset Spokesperson)

Netanyahu also took a jab at the Joint List, which last month voted against the normalization agreement with the UAE. “Today you have the opportunity to make amends. And if not today, we will give you many more chances later,” he said.

On October 18, at a solemn ceremony in Manama, Israel and Bahrain signed the Joint Communiqué, which is not legally a treaty but rather a “framework agreement.” However, with the signing of the document, Israel and Bahrain formally established diplomatic relations, Israeli officials said at the time.

In that document, signed by Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, the two countries agreed to “recognize and respect each other’s sovereignty and right to live in peace and security, promote lasting security and eschew the threat and use of force… and settle all disputes by agreed peaceful means.”

The document does not mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, according to a statement released by the Bahraini government, which it said was a joint statement, the two parties will “continue their efforts to achieve a just, comprehensive, and enduring resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The text did not explicitly mention the goal of Palestinian statehood or a two-state solution.

US President Donald Trump, center, with from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, September 15, 2020, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

On October 25, the cabinet ratified the “Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations, and Full Normalization Between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel,” which the two sides had signed during a historic White House ceremony on September 15.

That came after a Knesset session that saw over 100 lawmakers get up to make speeches, before a vote in which the only opposition came from members of the Joint List.

The UAE has yet to ratify the agreement.

Also in late October, Israel and Sudan agreed to normalize relations and to “end the state of belligerence between their nations” in a deal brokered by the US administration.

Jerusalem and Sudan also said they would “begin economic and trade relations,” but a joint statement issued at the time did not mention the establishment of full diplomatic ties. No formal agreement has been signed between the two sides, but an Israeli delegation is reportedly set to travel to Sudan in the near future to hammer out the details of the normalization process.

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