Israel lauds Bahrain FM for friendly comments, invites journalists to visit

Hoping for closer ties, Foreign Ministry says ‘direct contact is the key to peace,’ after Shaikh Khalid Al Khalifa’s first interviews with Israeli media

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa speaks with the Times of Israel on the sidelines of the Peace to Prosperity workshop in Manama, Bahrain, on June 26, 2019. (Courtesy)
Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa speaks with the Times of Israel on the sidelines of the Peace to Prosperity workshop in Manama, Bahrain, on June 26, 2019. (Courtesy)

Jerusalem on Thursday welcomed comments by Bahrain’s foreign minister to Israeli journalists expressing hopes for ties with Israel, and said it would invite Bahraini reporters to visit as a thank you.

In interviews with The Times of Israel and with Israeli television channels on the sidelines of a US-led peace workshop in the Bahraini capital of Manama, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said Israel was part of the Middle East and that he hoped for peace with the Jewish state.

“We welcome Bahrain FM Shaikh Khalid Al Khalifa’s decision to openly share his views with the Israeli media,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The positive comments that were expressed in the interview are very encouraging and offer hope for closer ties bilaterally & a peaceful future for our region.”

Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon told The Times of Israel that Jerusalem was issuing an official invitation to Bahraini journalists to visit Israel.

This Oct. 3, 2011, file photo shows an office tower in Manama, Bahrain, which bears images of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, center, Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, left, and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, right. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)

“I’ll be overjoyed to host a delegation of Bahraini journalists and show them Israel,” Nahshon said. “Direct contact is the key to peace.”

Khalifa firmly backed Israel’s right to exist Wednesday in a first-ever series of on the record interviews with Israeli outlets against the backdrop of the Peace to Prosperity workshop in Manama.

“Israel is a country in the region… and it’s there to stay, of course,” he told ToI.

“Who did we offer peace to [with] the [Arab] Peace Initiative? We offered it to a state named the State of Israel, in the region. We did not offer it to some faraway island or some faraway country,” Khalifa continued, referring to a Saudi-backed peace framework.

“We offered it to Israel. So we do believe that Israel is a country to stay, and we want better relations with it, and we want peace with it.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, left, gives a joint press conference with Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, center, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, right, and their Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, in Cairo, Egypt, July 5, 2017. (Khaled Elfiqi, Pool, via AP)

Khalifa also said other Arab countries backed Israel’s right to exist even if they do not express so publicly, in comments that drew rebuke from the Palestinian terror group Hamas.

Khalifa, 59, said that he would like to visit Israel in the future — “one day, when it’s all open and peaceful” — but was noncommittal about normalizing ties with Jerusalem in the absence of a peace deal.

“We don’t want to put the carriage before the horse. Let’s build it, we’re building the atmosphere now, with the economic prosperity,” he said.

Khalifa’s comments underscored growing acceptance of Israel in the Gulf, where a joint opposition to Iran has led to a flowering of covert ties between Jerusalem and several moderate Sunni regimes. In the last year, Sports Minister Miri Regev paid an official visit to Abu Dhabi, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was hosted in Oman.

German Foreign Ministry official Christian Buck, who attended the summit, tweeted that it “made me happy to see Arab and Israeli participants sit next to each other… and Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa say he wants better relations and peace with Israel.”

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, fifth from left, and Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, sixth from left, listen to White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, standing, during the opening session of the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Manama, Bahrain on June 25, 2019. (Bahrain News Agency via AP)

Though the conference was rejected by the Palestinians and criticized by others, White House adviser Jared Kushner on Thursday hailed the peace workshop in Bahrain as a “tremendous success,” as he made another appeal for the Palestinians to consider Washington’s $50 billion economic stimulus plan.

Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, led the two-day conference, where economic leaders heard the details of a US plan that promises to jumpstart the stagnant Palestinian economy.

The proposal — which aims in 10 years to create a million new jobs, slashing unemployment and improving living standards in the West Bank, Gaza and across the Middle East — has been rejected by Palestinians because it does not include a framework for resolving their conflict with Israel.

US officials say the political portion of the plan addressing the longstanding thorny issues may not be released until fall.

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