‘From friends to family’: Israel and Bahrain establish diplomatic relations
At Manama event, Israel’s Meir Ben-Shabbat welcomes deal with another state from ‘family of Abraham’; Joint Communiqué establishes ‘diplomatic, peaceful, and friendly relations’
Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.
Israel and Bahrain on Sunday formally declared that they have made peace and established formal diplomatic relations, only the fourth such agreement between the Jewish state and an Arab country, and the second in weeks.
At a solemn ceremony in Manama, officials from both nations signed eight bilateral agreements, including a “Joint Communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic, peaceful, and friendly relations.”
In that document, signed by Prime Minister Benjamin 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.
The other bilateral agreements signed Sunday — memoranda of understanding — dealt with bilateral cooperation in various fields, including civil aviation, communications, agricultural and technology. They were signed by director-generals of the relevant ministries from both countries.
None of the agreements’ full text was immediately released.
In a lengthy speech following the signing ceremony, Al-Zayani expressed his hope for “fruitful bilateral cooperation in every field,” and regional peace, including a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa “believes in the importance of strengthening the values of tolerance and coexistence and mutual understanding between different cultures and religions,” the top diplomat said, especially in a region “whose peoples have suffered from many conflicts and struggles.”
“The Palestinian question must be solved through direct negotiations between the two sides to reach a solution which satisfies both parties and brings about a two-state solution, according to the principles of the Arab Peace Initiative and the relevant international law,” Al-Zayani went on.
“We salute the Israeli government for its responsiveness in realizing this historic step,” al-Zayani says. “We will work with the international community to realize people across the Middle East in the near future.”
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, representing the administration of President Donald Trump — which helped broker the deal — briefly spoke about the opportunities for both countries that could now be realized.
“This is truly a remarkable accomplishment,” Mnuchin said. He mentioned the first-ever nonstop El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Manama that he had been on earlier on Sunday. “I look forward to this being the first of many commercial flights going back and forth between the countries,” he said.
Ben-Shabbat hailed the agreements as a first step in the peace to be forged between Israel and Bahrain. He thanked his Bahraini hosts for the warm welcome and vowed that any Bahraini delegation to Israel would receive similar treatment.
“We started the day as friends and we’re concluding it as family members — members of the family of Abraham,” he said, alluding to last month’s Abraham Accords signed at the White House.
The Joint Communiqué — the centerpiece of the budding Israeli-Bahraini friendship — is not legally a treaty, but rather a “framework agreement,” Israeli officials said, stressing, however, that with the signing Israel and Bahrain have formally established diplomatic relations.
It is currently unclear whether the document will be brought to the Israeli cabinet and/or the Knesset for approval. It appears likely that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit would require the agreement to be okayed by ministers at the very least, as it contains several obligations on Israel’s part.
Moments before the signing ceremony, Netanyahu spoke on the phone with Al-Zayani and with Mnuchin. He welcomed the agreements about to be signed and hailed the historic signing ceremony as a “giant step” toward peace.
“The prime minister also welcomed the first flight from Israel to Bahrain, which landed today, and said that it was a continuation of the breakthrough toward peace,” according to a readout of the call provided by his office.
The joint US-Israeli delegation arrived in the tiny Gulf kingdom earlier Sunday to work out the last details of the bilateral agreements. El Al Flight 973 — a nod to Bahrain’s country code — landed in Manama after taking off from Ben Gurion Airport in the first-ever nonstop passenger flight from Israel to the Gulf kingdom.
Al-Zayani welcomed the joint US-Israeli delegation at the airport.
During a ceremony held on the tarmac, Ben-Shabbat said in Arabic that Israel “extends its hands for genuine peace with the Bahraini people.”
“Together, we will change the reality in the region for the benefit of our nations. God willing, we will host you in Israel soon,” he said.
Switching to Hebrew, Ben-Shabbat said that the delegation, like a previous one to the United Arab Emirates, had flown nonstop from Tel Aviv, and added that he hoped the route would become a regular route in the near future.
He quoted from the Book of Genesis: “‘Let there be light, and there was light. And the Eternal One saw it was good.’ Let us bring light, and expand good.” He said that Bahrain and Israel have a lot in common — both are small in territory and population, but both have a pioneering spirit.
Al-Zayani expressed “optimism that such a peace will bring new stability and prosperity to the region, allowing our young people across the Middle East to achieve their potential and aspiration, which they have been denied for too long.
“Today, we put in place the foundations through which we can reach this goal, establishing a practical framework to advance both our bilateral cooperation and our ongoing partnership our countries enjoy with the United States of America,” the top Bahraini diplomat said.
“My hope is that this visit marks another step forward on the road to a truly peaceful, secure, stable, and thriving Middle East, one in which all states, races and faiths resolve differences through dialogue and develop for our children a new reality of coexistence and prosperity,” he said.
On the plane, Mnuchin told reporters that the White House and Israel’s Foreign Ministry were working on normalization agreements with more Arab countries.
“We hope we will be able to announce that soon,” he said.
From the tarmac, the officials headed to the capital’s Ritz Carlton Hotel, where they broke up into various working groups to finalize the bilateral agreements.
Mnuchin and Ben-Shabbat were also hosted by Bahraini Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa in his office at Gudaibiyah Palace. Al Khalifa reiterated Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa’s commitment to peace with Israel, but stressed that his approach “also aims to boost efforts to resolve the Palestinian issue on the basis of the two-state solution… being the ideal way to achieve just and comprehensive peace in the region,” according to the Bahraini Foreign Ministry.
Al Khalifa added that Bahrain views the peace process “as an essential step for broader relations to benefit the countries and peoples in the region.”
During his meeting with Ben-Shabbat, Al-Zayani said that the agreements signed will “establish fruitful cooperation between Bahrain and Israel that contributes to consolidating the foundations of peace in the region,” according to a readout of the meeting provided by the Bahraini Foreign Ministry.
“These visions aim to promote the peace process toward more positive prospects, starting with preserving the legitimate rights of the brotherly Palestinian people in accordance with the legal international resolutions,” the minister added.
Meanwhile, a number of Israeli journalists who accompanied the delegation were invited to visit the Manama synagogue, where they held evening services and spoke to senior members of the local Jewish communities. At the synagogue, which was built in the 1930s, they also met Khalid bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa, who heads the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence.
Officials in the tiny Gulf kingdom see the short trip — the Israelis were on the ground for only the afternoon and evening — as the Bahraini counterpart to the historic US-Israel delegation to Abu Dhabi on August 31, during which officials laid the groundwork for the UAE-Israel treaty signed two weeks later at the White House.
On Sunday evening, the US delegation — headed by Mnuchin and the White House’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Avi Berkowitz — continued on to the United Arab Emirates for meetings.
The Israeli delegation did not join their American colleagues in Abu Dhabi. Rather, they headed back to Tel Aviv on Sunday evening.
On Tuesday, a senior UAE delegation, including two top cabinet ministers, is expected to arrive in Israel for bilateral talks geared at implementing normalization agreements with Israel signed in Washington last month.
That delegation will mark the first time UAE ministers visit the Jewish state publicly since the two countries announced the normalization of their ties on August 13.
Aaron Boxerman and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.