Israel, Bahrain to Normalize Relations in Another Blow to Palestinians

Bahrain has followed in the steps of the United Arab Emirates by agreeing to normalize relations with Israel as part of the White House's campaign to achieve peace in the Middle East.

In a joint statement tweeted out by President Donald Trump, the leaders of the United States, Bahrain and Israel said they agreed to "establishment of full diplomatic relations between Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain."

"This is a historic breakthrough to further peace in the Middle East," the statement added. "Opening direct dialogue and ties between these two dynamic societies and advanced economies will continue the positive transformation of the Middle East and increase stability, security, and prosperity in the region."

Trump echoed these remarks in a follow-up tweet.

"Another HISTORIC breakthrough today! Our two GREAT friends Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain agree to a Peace Deal – the second Arab country to make peace with Israel in 30 days!" the president wrote.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called it "a new era of peace" on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in September 2001.

"It's humbling when the course of history changes seemingly overnight. In less than one month, under President Trump's leadership, we have another historic agreement, this time between Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain," he added. As the President laid out at the beginning of this Administration, he would strengthen America's friendships and build new partnerships in pursuit of peace. He kept his promise."

In a statement published by the Foreign Ministry of Bahrain, both King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "expressed their appreciation to the American president for his commitment to achieving peace and his focus on the joint challenges as well as the realistic and unique initiative that he took to bring their people together."

Netanyahu also expressed his appreciation to Trump in a video sent to Newsweek by the Israeli leader's office.

"We've been working on this for many years, but we wouldn't come to this historic moment without the forceful leadership of President Trump and his able team, and I want to thank them on behalf of the people of Israel and I believe on behalf of so many people in the Middle East and around the world," Netanyahu said.

He said he looked forward to seeing Trump, along with the representatives of Bahrain and the UAE at a signing ceremony Tuesday at the White House.

israel, bahrain, flags
The flags of Israel and Bahrain are seen in this artistic renditon. Oleksii Liskonih/iStock/Getty Images

The move comes less than a month after fellow Arabian Peninsula monarchy the UAE became the third Arab country to establish ties with Israel after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. Mauritania established ties in 1999 but severed them a decade later amid Israel's war in Gaza, a Palestinian enclave led by Sunni Islamist movement Hamas.

Palestinians have appealed to Arab nations not to establish relations with Israel until a resolution to their longstanding conflict stemming from a territorial dispute in the wake of Israel's 1948 establishment and the subsequent Arab-Israeli war. The Arab League, however, decided not to condemn the UAE's decision to normalize ties with Israel, a move Abu Dhabi said would halt the further annexation of Palestinian territories by Israel.

But Palestinian leadership has rejected this narrative, calling that move "a betrayal" to the holy city of Jerusalem, which both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital despite the former occupying it in its entirety since a 1967 war with Arab countries.

In a statement sent to Newsweek by the Palestine Liberation Organization - Negotiations Affairs Department, Palestinian leadership announced its "severe rejection and condemnation of the tripartite America, Israeli and Bahraini announcement on the normalization of relations between the Israeli occupation state and the Kingdom of Bahrain."

As in Abu Dhabi's actions before it, Manama's move was considered by the Ramallah-based Palestinian government to be a "betrayal of Jerusalem" as well as the revered Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian cause as a whole.

On the eve of the latest announcement, Newsweek spoke to both Palestinian and Israeli officials who offered diverging views of the Arab World's apparent warming toward a longtime foe.

"We hope that other Arab countries will not slide into normalization with Israel," Saeb Erekat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization - Negotiations Affairs Department, told Newsweek."Normalization has disastrous implications on the Palestinian cause's future, because it encourages Israel to consolidate and prolong its occupation of Palestine rather than ending it."

Israeli ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer disagreed. "As the circle of peace expands to other countries in the Arab and Muslim world, hopefully, that will begin to change and more constructive forces within Palestinian society will emerge," he told Newsweek on Thursday.

Israeli Foreign Minister spokesperson Lior Haiat said Thursday that Israeli officials "hope many other Arab countries will join the peace path that the UAE is creating."

Unlike the UAE and other, majority Sunni-Muslim members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Bahrain has a Shiite Muslim majority, though it, like the rest of the GCC except for civil war-torn Yemen, is ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy. One Shiite Muslim opposition group, the Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, immediately condemned Bahrain's new position.

"We affirm that the Bahraini regime's position on normalization with the Zionist enemy is a position of two parties that have no legitimacy in this regard. The Bahraini regime does not have the legitimacy to conclude an agreement with the Zionists, and the usurping entity is an illegal entity," the statement said.

"We stress that the agreement between the despotic regime in Bahrain and the Zionist occupation government is a total betrayal of Islam and pan-Arabism and a departure from the Islamic, Arab and national consensus," it added.

Bahrain has accused Israel's top foe, Iran, of attempting to establish proxy forces among the island country's Shiite Muslim community.

Iran, a revolutionary Shiite Islamic Republic, and its growing network of partnered forces, including powerful militias across the region, have increasingly drawn the attention of GCC states away from their historic enmity toward Israel. The Trump administration has sought to capitalize on this common ground.