MANAMA, Bahrain — Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa at the royal palace in Bahrain Thursday afternoon, the first public meeting between the king and an Israeli official.
“The leadership and inspiration of the king has led to real cooperation, and this meeting sets the course for the future of our relations,” Lapid said at the meeting.
The sit-down with the king came after Lapid met with Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the prime minister and crown prince of Bahrain, at his palace in Manama.
“Thank you for the opportunity to be here today, and to take this step together in building our relations,” said Lapid, “in a model of coexistence and cooperation between cultures and between faiths.”
It was the crown prince’s first public meeting with an Israeli official.
Lapid’s first meeting of the day was with his Bahraini counterpart, Abdullatif Al Zayani, whom he had met for the first time in Rome in June. They discussed ways of developing bilateral ties further, especially in security, economic, and civil society.
Speaking at a press conference alongside Lapid after their meeting, Zayani stressed Bahrain’s desire to “broaden and deepen cooperation across a range of sectors,” and says that Bahrain has chosen “peace and dialogue as a strategic option.”
“Your visit builds on the considerable progress we have made over the last year, and underlines our joint desire to spread peace and stability across the Middle East,” he said, reaffirming “Bahrain’s genuine commitment to building warm peace and cooperation with Israel.”
Zayani then turned to the Palestinian issue, emphasizing the “crucial importance” of a two-state solution that reflects “the rights, interests and aspirations of all parties.”
“Bahrain continues to call on all sides and the international community to achieve this goal,” he said.
Lapid called for deepening “economic, security, diplomatic, and civilian” ties.
“We will do everything to turn the partnership between Bahrain and Israel into a harmony, of cultures and religions,” Lapid said at the press conference. “And primarily, a harmony between people.”
“We are both tough peoples,” said the foreign minister. “We made life flourish in the heart of the desert.”
Alluding to the shared concern over the Iranian threat, Lapid continued: “Our opportunities are shared. Our threats are also shared, and they aren’t far from here.”
Lapid said the global battle today was between “a culture of life, against a culture of death and destruction,” returning to a familiar theme of his.
“Together with our friends in the Gulf, we are leading a brave coalition of moderates,” he said. “A coalition that is looking forward and creating a prosperous future of stability and tolerance.”
Asked by a Bahraini journalist about Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution, Lapid said he thought it was unfeasible for now but that he is “a devoted supporter of the two-state solution. I think it’s the right solution for the people of Israel and for the Palestinian people as well.”
He said that he supports improving the standard of living of the Palestinians in the meantime, and “doing no harm.”
Lapid landed in Manama on Thursday morning for the first ministerial visit to the island kingdom since bilateral relations were formally established last year.
He also signed framework agreements on water, environment and sports, among other areas, and was set to open Israel’s embassy in Manama.
Lapid was received on the tarmac by al-Zayani.
Lapid is the first Israeli foreign minister to visit Bahrain. In 1994, Environmental Affairs Minister Yossi Sarid traveled to the kingdom to participate in regional talks and meet with Bahrain’s foreign minister.
Since becoming foreign minister in June, Lapid has also visited the United Arab Emirates and Morocco, two countries that Israel has normalized relations with over the past year.
The first commercial flight between Manama and Tel Aviv also took off for Israel Thursday morning shortly after Lapid landed in Bahrain. Passengers include the heads of Gulf Air and a Jewish chef named Alex, who owns a restaurant in Bahrain and is flying to Isael to see his mother and two sisters.
The foreign minister is accompanied on his trip by Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Ushpiz and Deputy Director General for Middle Eastern Affairs Oded Yossef.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met on Sunday in New York with both Zayani and UAE Foreign Minister Khalifa al-Marar on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Bennett told Zayani that he was looking forward to meeting with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa at some point in the future.
Earlier this month, longtime diplomat Eitan Na’eh was tapped to serve as Israel’s ambassador in Manama. The nomination of Na’eh — who is still serving as an envoy to the United Arab Emirates pending his confirmation — came on the same day that Bahraini Ambassador to Israel Khaled Yousef al-Jalahmah met Lapid in the Knesset and presented the foreign minister with his credentials.
Two weeks later, Jalahma officially presented his credentials to President Isaac Herzog, a day before the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords, which established relations between Israel and several Arab countries, among them Bahrain.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.