Israeli officials will travel to Bahrain for next month’s “peace” conference, where the first stage of the US’ “deal of the century” is set to be revealed.
Speaking to Israel’s Channel 13 yesterday, a senior Israeli official revealed that the US has invited Israeli delegates to attend the meeting, which is to be held in Bahraini capital Manama on 25 and 26 June. “The official told the network the invitation was sent as a hardcopy, which is en route to Israel in diplomatic mail channels,” the Times of Israel reported, adding that “Israel [is] expected to accept the invitation”.
A separate report by the Israeli daily today noted that Israel’s Finance Minister, Moshe Kahlon, is among the Israeli delegates invited to attend. Kahlon’s spokesman, Omri Sheinfeld, said that while Kahlon has not yet received a formal invitation to the event, he expects one to arrive on his desk “in a matter of days”.
If Kahlon attends the summit, it will represent the first time a high profile Israeli official has visited the Gulf state. The two countries do not hold formal diplomatic relations, with Bahrain adhering to the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative which calls for Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) as a precondition for normalising relations.
However, in recent months Bahrain has pursued a number of normalisation initiatives with Israel. Last month it was revealed that Israeli entrepreneurs and officials were slated to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Manama. Bahrain rushed to limit the fallout from the announcement, saying in a statement that its “parliament stresses its support for the just cause of the brotherly Palestinian people, and it will remain a priority for the Bahraini and Arab people”.
“The end of the Israeli occupation and the withdrawal from all Arab land is an absolute necessity for the stability and security of the region and for a fair and comprehensive peace,” the statement added.
The Israeli delegation later cancelled its visit, citing “political issues”, “security concerns” and “a wish not to cause disruption for the other 180 nations participating” in the conference.
This was not the first time Bahrain sparked controversy over its stance on Israel. In February Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, said that confronting “the Iranian threat” is more important than dealing with the Israel-Palestine issue. The statement came to light in a video taken during the Warsaw Conference that was briefly uploaded to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official YouTube channel, before being quickly deleted.
“We have grown up saying that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the most important issue, and it must be resolved in this way or that, but in the final stages we have seen a greater challenge, the most serious in our modern history, the threat of the Iranian Republic,” Al-Khalifa could be heard saying in the video.
Al-Khalifa gained notoriety in May 2018 when he wrote on Twitter that “as long as Iran has violated the status quo in the region and invaded countries with its forces and missiles, any country in the region, including Israel, has the right to defend itself by destroying the sources of danger”. Israel was quick to capitalise on the tweet, with Israeli Minister of Communication, Ayoob Kara, saying it represented “no less than historic support for Israel”.
In November, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth predicted that Bahrain would sign a peace treaty with Israel in 2019. The daily quoted Rabbi Marc Schneier – who it described as a well-known person for his close ties with some Arab countries – as saying that “we will soon witness the start of an era of official diplomatic exchange between Israel and Bahrain, then the rest of Gulf States will follow”.
“Every Gulf country is racing to be the first to establish relations with Tel Aviv,” Schneier added.