Another momentous change is on the cards in the Middle East with the kingdom of Bahrain following in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates by deciding to normalize relations with Israel.
Friday’s development has been forged partly through shared fears of Iran and could well leave the Palestinians further isolated. In an obvious attempt to reap diplomatic goodwill prior to the November election, a decidedly isolated Donald Trump posted the announcement on Twitter after consultations with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
By all accounts, it has been a triangular exercise to mend fences. “Opening direct dialogue and ties between these two dynamic societies and advanced economies will continue the positive transformation of the Middle East and increase stability, security, and prosperity in the region,” the United States, Bahrain and Israel said in a joint statement.
At another remove, there is considerable dismay in Palestine which fears that the hitherto unlikely moves by Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates will weaken a longstanding pan-Arab position that calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab countries.
The diplomatic dynamics are now set to change. A month ago, the UAE agreed to normalize ties with Israel under a US-brokered deal scheduled to be signed at a White House ceremony on 15 September.
The joint statement said Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, Abdullatif Al Zayani, will join that ceremony and sign a “historic Declaration of Peace” with Netanyahu, who has hailed Bahrain’s decision as the start of a “new era”. In a somewhat rhetorical response, the Israeli Prime Minister said: “For many long years, we invested in peace, and now peace will invest in us, will bring about truly major investments in Israel’s economy.”
Friday’s thaw in the frost is doubtless another significant and historic achievement which will contribute enormously to the stability and prosperity of the region. The mending of fences with Israel is happening against a backdrop of shared fears about the threat that Iran may pose to the region. The crucial question now is whether Saudi Arabia, one of the Middle East’s most influential countries and a close U.S. ally, will follow suit.
Saudi Arabia, a key Sunni rival to Shi’ite Iran, has thus far signaled it is not ready.The agreements are being signed as Republican Trump trails his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, in several opinion polls ahead of the US election.
Though foreign policy has not figured prominently in the election campaign, Trump is eager to present himself as a peacemaker even as he engages in sniper attacks against Iran.
His moves have been interpreted as an effort to bolster his appeal to evangelical Christian voters, an important segment of his political base. In the twilight of his tenure, he has blurred the distinction between political compulsions and diplomacy by playing the honest broker.