In first, Bahraini king hosts Herzog, stresses Palestinians’ ‘legitimate rights’

Meeting Israeli president, King Hamad doesn’t mention Palestinian state; sides also avoid discussing Iran; Herzog is making first visit by Israeli head of state to the Gulf kingdom

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

President Isaac Herzog (L) meets with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (R) at the Al-Qudaibiya Palace in Manama, Bahrain, December 4, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog (L) meets with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (R) at the Al-Qudaibiya Palace in Manama, Bahrain, December 4, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

MANAMA, Bahrain — President Isaac Herzog met Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on Sunday, with the monarch underscoring his support for the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” in his public statement alongside the visiting Israeli head of state.

Speaking in Arabic, King Hamad stressed Bahrain’s “firm position in support of achieving a just, comprehensive and sustainable peace that guarantees the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and that will lead to stability, development and prosperity for both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, as well as all peoples of the region.”

Notably, the monarch did not mention a Palestinian state, nor did either leader bring up Iran, a country that both see as an enemy.

Hamad also pointed to the “religious and cultural diversity in our country, and the spirit of friendliness, tolerance and peaceful coexistence among the members of our honorable society of all religions and races.”

Herzog landed in Manama on Sunday for the first-ever visit by an Israeli head of state to the small Gulf island kingdom.

He opened his remarks in Arabic, thanking King Hamad for his hospitality.

Herzog also noted the Israeli business leaders in his delegation, representing organizations that include Israel’s Innovation Authority, Start-Up Nation Central, and the Israel Export Institute.

“You are at the forefront of making history in the region, where Jews and Muslims can dwell together, the sons of Abraham, and move forward in peace,” said Herzog.

King Hamad met Herzog at Manama’s Al-Qudaibiya Palace, where a military band played the national anthems of both countries.

At the beginning of their meeting, the president gave the monarch a silver mezuzah.

According to Herzog’s office, the two leaders discussed ways to expand the bilateral relationship.

Herzog’s two-day visit will also take him to the United Arab Emirates on Monday.

A Bahraini honor guard waits for the arrival of President Isaac Herzog in Manama, December 4, 2022 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

Ahead of his departure from Israel, Herzog said the trip was “predominantly a message of peace in the region.”

“Another historic step in the relationship between Israel and Arab states that signed the Abraham Accords, with the hope that more and more countries will be able to join the circle of peace with the State of Israel,” Herzog said in English.

Writing in The Times of Israel on Sunday, Herzog said that he would be focusing on translating the Abraham Accords into tangible benefits for private citizens, including through a free trade deal with Bahrain.

“I believe that the single greatest opportunity facing the Middle East is a warm peace with Israel — unlocking the latent potential of partnerships with our dynamic, vibrant economy,” the president wrote. “We cherish Bahrain as a trailblazer and pioneer in this regard, setting an example for the nations of our region.”

He also published a similar piece in Arabic in Al Ayam, Bahrain’s largest newspaper.

Upon landing in Manama, Herzog and his wife Michal were welcomed by Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani and Bahrain’s envoy to Israel Khaled Yousif Al-Jalahma.

He then sat down for a meeting with Al-Zayani.

President Isaac Herzog ahead of his visit to Bahrain, December 4, 2022 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

In the afternoon, Herzog is slated to meet with members of the local Jewish community, after which he will head to a meeting with the Bahrain Economic Development Board.

On Monday, the president will take off for Abu Dhabi to meet with his Emirati counterpart Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi ruler. Herzog will also attend the Abu Dhabi Space Debate, a forum on space exploration policy that will also feature Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa during the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 21, 2016. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The visit takes place as the Gulf has seen recent displays of anti-Israel sentiment, cracking the façade of widespread backing for normalization in both Bahrain and the UAE. Opposition to official government policy is rare in both countries run by authoritarian regimes, but support for the Abraham Accords has been declining in both places.

Ahead of Herzog’s visit on Friday, protesters in Bahrain chanted “death to Israel”  at rallies against the upcoming trip. The protesters were affiliated with opposition groups that are supportive of Iran, the Ynet news site reported.

Some carried signs with Herzog’s image that said “criminal” and “you are not welcome in Bahrain.”

Local authorities allowed the anti-Israel protests to take place, but will not permit similar events during Herzog’s visit, the report said.

A Bahraini opposition outlet said the demonstrators burned an Israeli flag and squared off with riot police.

President Isaac Herzog speaks with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani in Manama, December 4, 2022. (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

Israel normalized ties with the UAE and Bahrain in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords. The agreement paved the way for normalization with Morocco months later.

In January, Herzog visited the UAE’s Abu Dhabi and Dubai on a two-day trip.

Last month, presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a phone call with Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.

The pair expressed their desire to continue to deepen relations between the two countries, and Netanyahu invited Al Khalifa to visit Israel.

In October, a delegation of Israeli paratroopers held a joint jump over Bahrain, alongside soldiers from the Gulf nation, the UAE, and the United States to mark two years since the signing of the Abraham Accords.

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