After two years of preparations and expectations for the unveiling of the US plan to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians, more than 300 government officials and businesspeople from across the globe gathered in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
For the first time since the establishment of the Jewish state, Israeli reporters were allowed into Bahrain, a strict Muslim country in the Persian Gulf, to report live from what was originally touted to be a “peace conference,” but was downgraded to an “economic workshop.”
Israeli television channel Kan 11 had reporters on the ground who said that they received special treatment, including being the only journalists invited to the official opening dinner with over 300 delegates. “This is an example of the King of Bahrain’s desire to build relationships with Israel,” the reporters said. “He is making an effort to build confidence with the Israeli public that these peace plans are serious.” Bahrainis even played an Israeli song at the dinner.
Abu Mazen and the Palestinian leadership, however, refused to attend the conference after rejecting the US peace proposal before it was even published. In spite of the Palestinian boycott, a number of Palestinian delegates are attending the conference incognito, but refused to be interviewed after telling the Israeli press that they are “afraid that Hamas or the PLO would find out.”
A number of Israeli military generals and businesspeople are also in attendance. One Jewish businessman pointed out that there were “many kippot (Jewish head coverings) mingling among the crowd of mostly Arab leaders, schmoozing and doing things that people normally do if you are not at war with each other.”
Jared Kushner opened the conference by acknowledging that “everyone here would like to bring an end the conflict and bring peace, prosperity and security for Palestinians and Israelis.”
The Israeli reporters were allowed to roam the streets of Manama, the kingdom’s capital city, with their television camera crew. Bahrain is the 23rd richest nation in the world with a population of just 1.2 million. It is also home to rampant anti-Israel and even antisemitic sentiment. “People here (in Bahrain) don’t like Israelis,” a local merchant told the Israeli reporters. “People here are Muslims. And Israel is not Muslim. And the Israelis took the land from the Palestinians. Israel is Muslim lands. For Arabs. The land is not for other peoples(Jews),” the wealthy shop owner said without hesitation to the Israeli camera crew.
Listening to this rich Muslim’s sentiments, one wonders how anyone could think that the US plan to invest $50 billion into the Palestinian economy will alter their hatred toward Israel and Jews.
There was at least one Bahraini that offered an interesting perspective. Luis El Sharif is a Muslim and teaches languages in Bahrain. “I love the Hebrew language,” he told the Israeli reporters in Hebrew. “I love the Hebrew language because of the Prophets like King David, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel. As a Muslim, I believe that we are the continuation of the Hebrew Prophets. I hope, God willing, there will be peace in Israel and in Jerusalem, the city of King David,” Sharif said.
“Maybe you will come next year to visit Tel Aviv?” the Israeli reporter asked. “Better next year in Jerusalem,” the Bahraini said, quoting the famous Passover verse. “I love Jerusalem, King David’s capital city,” he smiled.
Against the backdrop of the conference on the shores of the Persian Gulf, Iranian-US tensions continue to mount. US, Israeli and Russian officials are now meeting in Jerusalem to discuss the situation. They have reportedly agreed to move ahead with a three-fold plan to reduce tension in the region:
- Remove all foreign forces from Syria, especially the Iranian militias and terrorist groups;
- Begin discussing how to practically implement the withdrawal of state actors from Syria. Given the Russian interests and military bases in Syria, Moscow is expected to demand compromises from the US;
- Russia will move Iranian forces (most notably their Hezbollah proxy) to a distance of 80-100 km (50-60 miles) from the northern border with Israel.
The Russian representative at the gathering stated that “we don’t want Israel bombing in Syria. Russia and Israel need to work more closely together to coordinate security measures in the area.”
Iran, in the meantime, has said in response to renewed US sanctions that unless there is a breakthrough, they will proceed with enriching uranium with the intent of expanding their nuclear capabilities.