Bahrainis decry betrayal as king does deal with Israel

Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni with former Bahraini foreign minister Khalid Bin Ahmed al-Khalifa (Twitter)

Tamara Nassar

The Electronic Intifada  /  September 11, 2020

In a move that surprised no one, Bahrain and Israel agreed on Friday to establish full diplomatic ties, formalizing more than two decades of clandestine relations.

President Donald Trump announced the US-brokered agreement in a joint statement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahrain’s king Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

The statement was also published in Arabic by Bahrain’s foreign ministry:

The three leaders spoke on the phone following the announcement.

Bahrain and Israel “will exchange embassies and ambassadors, begin direct flights between their countries and launch cooperation initiatives,” Trump announced at an Oval Office press conference.

Areas of cooperation will include health, business, technology, education, security and agriculture, Trump said.

During the leaders’ call, Bahrain’s king reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the moribund two-state solution, according to Bahrain’s official news agency.

Declaring support for a two-state solution they are doing nothing to advance is a standard tactic by Arab and European governments to deflect from their complicity and inaction as Israel continues to violently colonize Palestinian land.

Supporting the non-existent “peace process” is also used as an excuse for public and private dealings with Israel.

Bahrain is following in the footsteps of its regional ally the United Arab Emirates, which also agreed to full normalization of relations with Israel less than a month ago.

Both countries will sign the agreements with Israel in a White House ceremony on 15 September.

Both normalization agreements are being described as treaties of “peace,” despite neither countries having actually engaged in war with Israel.

“It’s just a very historic day, a very important day and so interesting that it’s on 9/11. It’s such a great time,” Trump told reporters.

“These treaties are the result of tireless work behind the scenes over many years,” Netanyahu said in a video address on Friday.

A grinning Netanyahu also celebrated the fact that Israel was gaining “peace for peace” – a term long used by Netanyahu in opposition to the formula “land for peace” that was for decades meant to be the basis of negotiations.

“Peace for peace” means, in effect, that Israel is getting full, normal relations in exchange for nothing.

Unlike the United Arab Emirates – which tried to spin its agreement to normalize relations as an exchange for Israel suspending plans to annex large swaths of the occupied West Bank – Bahrain does not pretend it has achieved anything for Palestinians.

Bahrain’s foreign minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani will lead his country’s delegation to Washington on Tuesday to sign what Trump called the “Declaration of Peace.”

Hend al-Otaiba, spokesperson for the UAE foreign ministry, confirmed that her country’s foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan – brother of the country’s crown prince – will lead the Emirati delegation.

Al-Otaiba welcomed Bahrain’s decision.

Netanyahu said he would lead the Israeli delegation.

Behind the scenes

A Bahraini official called Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz a few hours after the announcement of the agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel on 13 August.

“We want to be the next Arab state to normalize relations with Israel,” the unnamed senior Bahraini official told Trump’s advisers, Israeli publication Walla reported.

Talks ensued between US and Bahraini officials, and Kushner’s delegation visited Manama after their trip to Israel and the United Arab Emirates in late August and early September.

Kushner carried with him a Torah scroll which he presented to the Bahrainis as a gift for the monarch.

It was important for them to secure the deal before the 15 September White House ceremony to encourage others in the region to move towards normalization.

The deal was sealed when Saudi Arabia “gave the green light” to Bahrain, Walla reported.

History of covert relations

Bahrain’s rush to be next to betray Palestine is hardly surprising.

The tiny island state’s ties with Israel and US lobby groups have been strengthening in recent years.

It was in Manama that the Trump administration’s so-called “Peace to Prosperity” conference was hosted in June 2019, where the economic component of the US Middle East “peace” plan was announced.

Palestinians were starkly absent from the festivities.

But Israeli journalists were welcomed to Bahrain’s capital and even conducted interviews with its foreign minister at the time, Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, who is now an adviser to the king.

Al-Khalifa was the most brazenly pro-Israel Gulf official even before any Gulf state established formal relations with Israel.

He had previously approached Israel’s former foreign minister Tzipi Livni at the February 2017 Munich Security Conference to relay a message on behalf of Bahrain’s king that he had decided to move towards normalization with Israel and wanted her to inform Netanyahu.

Livni and Al-Khalifa even posed for a picture together on another occasion:

Livni has been repeatedly pursued internationally by prosecutors for questioning over her role in war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

Al-Khalifa regularly cheers for Israel’s attacks on countries in the region, defends Netanyahu and downplays Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.

His warming up to the Israel lobby goes back at least a decade.

Top Israel lobbyist William Daroff posted a picture of himself and Al-Khalifa, which he said was taken at the house of prominent American rabbi Levi Shemtov in 2010.

Daroff is the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which brings together the leaders of some of the most influential anti-Palestinian groups.

Israel has previously sold Bahrain sophisticated spy software which was reportedly used to spy on human rights activists.

A delegation from the American Jewish Committee, a major Israel lobby group, visited Bahrain last year and met with top officials.

Months earlier, the group presented Bahrain with an award for being “opening and welcoming” towards it. Al-Khalifa even received the award on his country’s behalf.

In 2017, Bahrain’s king denounced the Arab boycott of Israel and declared that citizens of his Gulf nation would now be allowed to visit Israel.

A Bahraini delegation from the “interfaith” organization This is Bahrain even travelled to Israel in 2017 claiming that “the king sent us.”

In occupied East Jerusalem, the delegation was met with outright rejection from Palestinians who viewed it as normalization with Israel.

This is Bahrain has significant ties with Zionist individuals and groups.

Bahraini social media users took to Twitter on Friday to protest their government’s normalization with Israel using hashtags “Bahrainis against normalization” and “Normalization is a betrayal.”

The Bahraini Society Against Normalization with the Zionist Enemy rejected the agreement in a Tweet on Friday.

“How do you look at the hands that shake yours and not see blood on each palm?” it read.

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada