Donald Trump has announced that the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain has agreed to normalise ties with Israel, the second Arab state to do so in a month, following White House efforts to broker a series of bilateral deals in the Middle East.
“Another HISTORIC breakthrough today!” the US president tweeted on Friday afternoon. “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!”
At the White House, Mr Trump told reporters: “As more countries normalise relations with Israel, which will happen quite quickly we believe, the region will become more and more stable, secure and prosperous. In the meantime, we're pulling our soldiers out, so we're doing it the opposite way.”
Bahrain and Israel said in a joint statement with the US that they would sign a “declaration of peace” on Tuesday at the White House ceremony where the United Arab Emirates and Israel are also due to sign their own such declaration, agreed last month.
The developments mark a rare diplomatic victory for a White House whose foreign policy efforts in China, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela have often failed to deliver fruit.
Mike Singh, a former director of Middle East affairs at the National Security Council, said that while Mr Trump has long been focused on a “deal of the century” between Israelis and Palestinians, administration officials have “always felt that there was more progress to be made between Israel and US allies in the Gulf than between the Israelis and the Palestinians”.
The Palestinian leadership has accused the UAE of betraying the Palestinian cause. After the announcement of the Bahrain deal, Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian official, said if the Trump administration wanted to advance the cause of peace it should seek an end to “Israel's ruthless occupation and its theft of our land and resources".
“Coercing & cajoling Arabs to normalise with Israel will not bring you peace or dignity," she said on Twitter.
Aaron David Miller, who formerly worked on Arab-Israeli negotiations, said the moves represented the “shattering of the Arab consensus”. He said while some would continue to pay lip-service to a two-state solution for the Palestinians, individual states were increasingly set to make their own independent arrangements with Israel.
Bahrain, which is the only Gulf state to have a Shia majority ruled by a Sunni monarchy, has long been a US ally and, like the UAE, it shares Israel’s concerns about Iran’s role in the region.
The small kingdom, which depends on Abu Dhabi and Riyadh for financial support, is home to the US’s Navy’s Fifth Fleet and last year Manama hosted an economic conference organised by Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser.
Bahrain was widely touted to be among the Arab states that might follow the UAE in agreeing to normalise relations with the Jewish state. Mr Miller also touted Oman, Sudan and Morocco as potential next candidates for normalisation of relations with Israel, but said Saudi Arabia remained the elusive “big prize”.
Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that while the move by Bahrain “would have been co-ordinated closely with the Saudis”, Riyadh was unlikely to take the same step itself.
Those who have discussed the matter with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, say he and his brother would like to normalise ties with Israel, but that their father, King Salman, is resistant and continues his strong support for the Palestinians.
King Salman told the US president last week that the kingdom wanted a fair and permanent solution to the Palestinian issue based on the 2002 Arab peace initiative. Under the initiative, which was spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, Arab states would normalise ties with Israel in return for the Jewish state withdrawing from occupied territory it captured in the 1967 war and a settlement that leads to the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
Both Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed their “deep appreciation” for Mr Trump in the joint statement issued by the White House on Friday.
Mike Evans, a US evangelical leader who founded the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem and regularly advises Mr Trump and Mr Kushner, said the successful effort to secure diplomatic relations between Israel and a range of Arab states had effectively “checkmated” the Palestinians.
“In the past Israel had no way to counter them [the Palestinians] when they used terror,” said Mr Evans, who was due to attend Tuesday’s White House signing ceremony, adding the agreements would ensure Arab states reduced their funding for the Palestinians.
Evangelical leaders have become regular visitors to the White House, and have claimed Mr Trump owed his 2016 victory to white Evangelical voters, who number in the tens of millions and overwhelmingly support Mr Trump.
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