Another historic peace agreement was reached on Friday between Israel and the small island nation located in the Persian Gulf, the Kingdom of Bahrain.
US President Donald J. Trump announced the deal on Twitter, stating that the decision was made after speaking on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The deal comes approximately one month following the decision of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to sign an agreement with Israel, making it the fourth Arab nation to normalize its relations with the Jewish state.
Just last week, Donald Trump was nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the peace deal between Israel and the UAE, also known as the ‘Abraham Accords’. Now, in an effort led by Senior Advisor in the Trump administration and son-in-law of the president Jared Kushner, the US has successfully brokered yet another historic deal, adding Bahrain to list of Arab countries completely normalizing its relations with Israel after 72 years of boycott. Representatives of Bahrain are expected to join the UAE and Israel for a deal-signing ceremony set to take place in Washington on September 15.
President Trump referred to the deal as an, “historical breakthrough,” citing that it was the second agreement brokered by the US in just 30 days. The United States, Israel and Bahrain released a joint statement stating that, “This is a historic breakthrough to further peace in the Middle East.”
After releasing a statement on Twitter expressing how establishing relations with Israel is in the interest of Middle East security, stability and prosperity, Bahraini Ambassador to the United States Abdullah R. Al-Khalifa emphasized that, “a just and comprehensive peace with the Palestinian people is the best path and the true interest for their people (Israel) and the future of the peoples of the region.”
Although historic, the announcement of the deal was hardly surprising. Similar to the UAE, Israel has managed covert contacts with Bahrain throughout recent years, especially surrounding issues of technology and security. Viewing Iran as a primary threat to both the region’s and its own national security, the small Gulf kingdom naturally looks towards Jerusalem for cooperation. Therefore, immediately after announcing the Israel-UAE agreement, it was highly expected that Bahrain would soon join.
The Arab kingdom’s decision to join the UAE in signing a peace deal with Israel is interesting for three primary reasons. Although Bahrain certainly isn’t considered one of the most important countries in the region, it shows that the wave of normalization with Israel is continuing.
In addition, although the monarchy in Bahrain is Sunni, the majority of its citizens are Shi’ite. Needless to say, it is possible that many Bahraini’s have affinities with Iran. With Iran clenching its teeth at the fact that two Arab countries normalized their relations with Israel in just 29 days, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Islamic republic attempted to stir up unrest among Bahrain’s Shi’ite population. What is certain is that the fact that the government has normalized the country’s relations with Israel doesn’t promise that the hearts and minds of the people are with it. If there are other Arab states considering following the lead of the UAE and Bahrain, their eyes are most likely currently affixed towards public reaction to the deal in Bahrain.
Furthermore, Bahrain’s readiness to sign a peace agreement with Israel tells us something about the position of Saudi Arabia. Bahrain is known for having close relations with Riyadh and is unlikely to have pursued an agreement with Israel without Saudi Arabia’s blessing. Therefore, it is most likely that Bahrain was given a green light to sign the agreement prior to the announcement. Moreover, we know that the Saudis were already signaling their support for normalization after recently declaring that it would allow flights from Israel to fly over its airspace traveling to the UAE.
Is Saudi Arabia next in line to normalize relations with Israel? It’s hard to tell, but most pundits are doubting that the move will be made for the time being. This is mostly understood as stemming from internal differences of opinion within the monarchy. The current king Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is viewed as more conservative and currently reluctant to sign a deal with Israel prior to finding a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. However, his son and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman, is seen as leaning more in favor of normalizing relations with Israel. As of now, the kingdom’s official position is aligned with the Arab Peace Initiative: first peace with the Palestinians and then peace with the Arab world.
The Palestinians have turned out to lose the most in Israel’s deal with Bahrain. Ramallah is raging at the fact that another Arab country has, in its view, stabbed it in the back. It was always historically expected that normalization with the Arab world for Israel ran through Ramallah. However, the cracks in this position are only growing larger and more and more Arab countries are placing the Palestinian cause on the back burner for the time being.