After over seventy years of stalemate on the Palestinian question, the moves by Arab states like Bahrain and the UAE to open up diplomatic relationships with Israel offer new opportunities for addressing regional tensions and creating prospects for just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
Bahrain is clear that this diplomatic opening has no impact on its long-standing position of support for the Palestinian people and its commitment to a two-state solution. In this context, Bahrain fully supports the recent reiteration of the Arab League’s support for the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. The King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa “stressed the need to reach a just and comprehensive peace as a strategic option, in accordance with the two-state solution and relevant resolutions of international legitimacy”.
Seventy years of refusing to talk to Israel or interact with Israelis resulted in the Arab world for the most part lacking an ability to wield direct influence in seeking compromise, concessions and de-escalation of tensions. In contrast; Egypt and Jordan used their own peace deals with Israel to be deeply active players in addressing challenges faced between Palestinian factions and conflict resolution initiatives.
The world has changed beyond recognition in recent decades and it is no longer viable for our region to be cut apart by artificial barriers to trade and interaction. We find ourselves in a frozen state of war which came into being long before most of us were born. While there is universal support for the Palestinians throughout Bahrain and the GCC, it makes little sense to remain locked into a formula which has brought us no closer to peace or regional stability.
The King’s diplomatic adviser Khalid bin Ahmed AlKhalifa commented that the agreement “is in the interest of the security, stability and prosperity of the region, and sends a positive and encouraging message to the people of Israel that a just and comprehensive peace with the Palestinian people is the best way and the true interest for their future and the future of the peoples of the region.”
This diplomatic opening certainly doesn’t mean an end to Bahrain’s opposition to specific Israeli policies and practices; yet for a long time Israel has not been our principle enemy and strategic threat in the region. That dubious honour is held by the Islamic Republic, which just two years after its 1979 Islamic Revolution sought to stage a coup in Bahrain and has been behind various attempts at subversion, insurgency and terrorism ever since, most notably during the traumatic events of 2011.
In Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and many locations, Iran has been behind attempts at espionage and efforts to bring down the legitimate leaderships; often through training and arming terrorist and militant groups. Meanwhile, in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, Iran’s efforts to achieve dominance have been even more visible; investing billions of dollars in extremist militant groups. Houthi militias in Yemen have fired hundreds of Iranian missiles into Saudi Arabia against innocent civilians.
In consequence, more than anyone, we have Tehran to thank for bringing Arab States and Israel closer together. Israel has never posed an existential threat to any GCC states, yet the Islamic Republic is a menace to all of us. It was therefore not a surprise to hear Iranian officials rushing out to condemn the Bahrain-Israel accord, before anyone around the world had the opportunity to hear and digest the consequences of this historic move.
This announcement didn’t come out of nowhere: There have been steps in this direction over the past few years, including an evolving pattern of bilateral contacts and visits. From Bahrain’s perspective, this has never been a dispute over religions. Bahrain has long-accorded deep respect for the Jewish faith, with members of its own Jewish community serving in the Shura Council and senior diplomatic roles. Bahrain is proud of its heritage of religious tolerance, with long-established synagogues, churches, mosques and temples.
This diplomatic opening is most of all a blessing for all of us who have longed to see peace in our region, but throughout the duration of any of our lifetimes there has never been a moment without conflict throughout the blighted Middle East, either between states or within states.
The move represents an outstretched hand in search of peace, seeking engagement with all those who desire peace based on justice, freedoms and rights for all peoples of the region.