Rabbi Marc Schneier with Bahrain's King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is only natural that the US administration selected Bahrain as the site of an “economic workshop” next month that will constitute the first step in promoting US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” said US Rabbi Marc Schneier, a “special adviser” to the Bahraini king.
“I don’t think that anyone deserves this more, or is more worthy of this distinction, then the king of Bahrain, who has consistently led the effort in warming relations between Israel and the Gulf,” said Schneier, who visits the Gulf state five or six times each year. In December, Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa named him as a special adviser to his Global Center for Peaceful Coexistence.
The aim of the “economic workshop” scheduled for June 25-26 is to “galvanize support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be made possible by a peace agreement,” the White House said Sunday when announcing the meeting. It is expected to be attended by finance ministers and business leaders from around the world in an effort to secure financial commitments to back the economic component of a Middle East peace deal.
Schneier ticked off a number of steps Hamad has taken over the last eight years that have set the country apart regarding attitudes toward Israel. These include being the first Gulf leader to speak publicly against Iran in 2011; taking the lead in 2013 in getting the Gulf Cooperation Council to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization; sending an interfaith group to Jerusalem in December 2017 just two weeks after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; and statements issued over the last year supporting some of Israel’s defensive actions.
It is not a question of Hamad being a participant in the Gulf countries’ warming relations with Israel, Schneier said, but that “he is very much leading this process.”
Schneier – rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue in New York who spends a good deal of time in Persian Gulf countries as head of an organization promoting Jewish-Islamic ties called the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding – said that Bahrain stands to benefit on a number of different levels by hosting this meeting.
First, it will position Bahrain to be the first Gulf country to establish ties with Israel. Second, it will strengthen the country’s relationship with the US – not only with the Trump administration, but also with Congress and the American people. And finally, he said, Hamad has expressed to him in the past his desire in developing economic ties with Israel. Schneier quoted Hamad as telling him in 2016 that, “Our only hope for a strong, moderate Arab voice in the Gulf is a strong Israel.”
One major question mark hovering over holding the workshop in Bahrain is whether the Qataris – whom Bahrain, along with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are boycotting – will attend. Qatar is one of the Palestinians’ main financial supporters.
“Hopefully, the summit will transcend the political and ideological difference between the two countries,” he said, noting that it is the US, and not Bahrain, who will be inviting the participants to the conference.