Israel about to sign its fourth accord with an Arab state

Landing in Bahrain to sign deal, Israeli official stresses ‘genuine peace’ hopes

In first, El Al plane carries Israeli delegation to Manama to formalize relations: Bahrain FM: ‘I hope this visit marks another step on road to truly peaceful Middle East’

An Israeli-US delegation being welcomed with a ceremony at the Bahraini International Airport on October 18, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)
An Israeli-US delegation being welcomed with a ceremony at the Bahraini International Airport on October 18, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)

A joint US-Israeli delegation arrived in Bahrain Sunday afternoon to sign a series of bilateral agreements between Jerusalem and Manama, including a so-called Joint Communiqué that will formally establish diplomatic relations between the two countries.

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.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani welcomed the joint US-Israeli delegation at the airport.

During a ceremony held on the tarmac, Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir 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 noted that the Knesset approved the Israel-UAE peace treaty three days ago. He said the current delegation, like a previous one to the United Arab Emirates, flew nonstop from Tel Aviv, and added that he hoped the route would become a regular route in the near future. He thanked Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa for making peace.

“In a certain sense, this visit today closes a circle for Bahrain’s role in bringing peace,” Ben-Shabbat said, presumably referring to last year’s Peace to Prosperity conference in Manama.

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.

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat delivers a statement upon his arrival at the Bahraini International Airport on October 18, 2020. (Photo by RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

Al-Zayani said the event “builds on the historic occasion at the White House last month, taking the next steps to implement the declaration in support of peace, and the Abraham Accords. We do so in conviction that this approach of engagement and cooperation is the most effective, the most sustainable way to bring about genuine and lasting peace, one which safeguards the rights of the Middle East’s peoples.”

He 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.”

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani delivers a statement upon the arrival of a US-Israeli delegation in the Bahrain International Airport on October 18, 2020. (Photo by RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is heading the American delegation, said he was happy to be back in Bahrain for this “very, very important occasion.”

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 will break up into various working groups to discuss the signing of bilateral agreements in a wide number of fields, including the reciprocal opening of embassies, the establishment of visa regimes, cooperation on agriculture and so on.

The agreements will include the “Joint Communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic, peaceful and friendly relations.”

The joint declaration will include six to eight memoranda of understanding on matters that include justice, communications, visas, science and technology, trade, energy and agriculture, according to various Hebrew-language reports.

Both countries will promise not to take hostile actions against one another and to act against hostile actions by third countries. However, it won’t include any reference to the Palestinian issue, according to the reports.

“This text is not a formal treaty in the legal sense, but rather a framework agreement,” said a senior Israeli official familiar with the details of the matter. “This is the way the Bahrainis go about establishing bilateral ties in recent years. As of Sunday’s signing ceremony, Israel and Bahrain will have established formal diplomatic relations.”

In this September 15, 2020 file photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan pose for a photo on the Blue Room Balcony after signing the Abraham Accords during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

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.

“The aim of the communiqué is to start implementing the declaration that was signed in Washington, put more meat into it, make it more detailed and define the principles of the relations between the countries,” an official told the Walla news site on Friday.

“It will be the umbrella for all bilateral agreements to be signed in the next several months,” the unnamed official said.

According to the Walla report, the Bahrainis want to move forward more cautiously than the UAE, due to some domestic opposition to the move. Nevertheless, the communique was still considered to be progress and an expansion on the initial declaration signed in Washington.

Officials in the tiny Gulf kingdom see the short trip — the Israelis will be on the ground for about seven hours — 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.

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat (L) and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin disembark from a plane upon their arrival at the Bahraini International Airport on October 18, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

On Sunday evening, the US delegation — headed by Mnuchin and the White House’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Avi Berkowitz — will continue on to the United Arab Emirates for meetings.

The Israeli delegation — headed by Ben-Shabbat and Foreign Ministry director-general Alon Ushpiz — will not join their American colleagues in Abu Dhabi. Rather, they are set to return to Israel on Sunday evening.

Prime Minister’s Office Acting Director-General Ronen Peretz is also on the trip, as are the directors general of a handful of Israeli ministries.

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 ties on August 13.

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