A senior Hamas official lashed out at Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa on Thursday over comments the Gulf official made to The Times of Israel regarding Israel’s legitimacy and the attitudes of other Arab countries to the Jewish state.
In a wide-ranging interview on the sidelines of the US-led Peace to Prosperity conference in Manama on Wednesday, Khalifa told The Times of Israel that Israel’s existence is a fact, and that Bahrain would like peace with it. “Israel is a country in the region… and it’s there to stay, of course,” he said. “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 do believe that Israel is a country to stay, and we want better relations with it, and we want peace with it.”
These and other comments by Khalifa draw a complaint from Moussa Abu Marzouk, a member of the Hamas Politburo. An Islamist terror group, Hamas seeks to destroy Israel.
“The foreign minister of Bahrain calling on the Arab states through ‘The Times of Israel’ newspaper to recognize Israel as a state that will remain affirms that the goal of the workshop is to erase the Palestinian right and normalize the existence of the occupation as a part of the region’s fabric,” tweeted Abu Marzouk. “We affirm our rejection of the conference and this proposal. These [people] are the ones who fought us, spilled our blood and removed us from our homes.”
In his interview, Khalifa did not explicitly call on Arab states to recognize Israel. What he said was, “We do believe that Israel is a country to stay, and we want a better relation with it, and we want peace with it.” He also reiterated his stance that Israel has a right to defend itself from aggression.
When asked why the foreign ministers of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates do not make similar public comments about Israel, Khalifa also said, “You know, people differ in their approach. We say it. We say it publicly. We don’t shy away from it. Because we know this is a principled position, and we agree to it, and we believe in it. And we know our brothers in the region do believe in it.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry welcomed Khalifa’s comments to Israeli journalists from The Times of Israel and other outlets covering the conference.
“The State of Israel welcomes the decision of the Bahraini foreign minister to hold public dialogues with Israeli journalists,” the Foreign Ministry tweeted on its Arabic-language account on Thursday. “Israel expresses its gratitude for the positive words that the minister stated in the interviews with the Israeli press, which give hope for the strengthening of of bilateral relations and a peaceful future for the region.”
The Hamas terror group and the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership both vehemently opposed the workshop in Bahrain.
Meeting foreign journalists in Gaza last week, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the Palestinians reject the conference and “refuse to commute the Palestinian cause from political to humanitarian”; he also appealed to Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to “take a brave, strong, authentic, Arab decision not to host this workshop.”
Hamas also thanked the Bahraini people on Thursday in a statement on its website for its support in “confronting the American-Zionist deal of the century,” using a term that critics of the Trump administration often use to refer to its peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“This support for Palestine is not strange for the generous people of Bahrain which is known for its genuine positions,” Hamas added.
The statement made no explicit reference to the Bahraini foreign minister, but it did call on “our people in dear Bahrain to continue to challenge and reject all forms of normalization with the Zionist enemy.”
The Qatari satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera reported on Wednesday that some Bahraini citizens had placed Palestinian flags on their homes to protest the summit in Manama, underlining tensions between the country’s Shiite majority and its Sunni rulers.
The Associated Press and Raphael Ahren contributed to this article.