Ashkenazi to be first Israeli minister to visit Bahrain next month

Bahrain FM: We are nurturing the seeds planed by Sadat; Bahrain formally requests to open embassy in Israel.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (C) stands alongside Avi Berkowitz, special advisor to President Trump (R) and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani (photo credit: MIRI SHIMONOVICH/GPO)
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (C) stands alongside Avi Berkowitz, special advisor to President Trump (R) and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani
(photo credit: MIRI SHIMONOVICH/GPO)
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is set to be the first Israeli minister to make an official visit to Bahrain, after accepting an invitation from Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, who led the first-ever delegation from his country to Israel on Wednesday.
Zayani held a trilateral meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who also arrived in Israel on Wednesday, as well as separate meetings with Ashkenazi and President Reuven Rivlin.
Ashkenazi agreed to attend the 2020 Manama Dialogue, a summit of ministers from across the region on December 4-6 hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“I promise to come to Manama very soon to continue our constructive dialogue started today and to promote conversation between our countries and leaders,” he said.
Last month, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat led an Israeli delegation to Bahrain, and lower-level Israeli officials, including Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, visited the Gulf state in 2019, but Ashkenazi’s trip will be the highest-level Israeli visit and the first by a minister.
Ashkenazi also expressed hope that Israel would open its embassy in Bahrain by the time he visits.
Zayani gave Ashkenazi a formal request to open an embassy in Israel during their meeting, and announced that Manama had approved Jerusalem’s request to do the same in Bahrain, submitted last month.
The Bahraini foreign minister said that direct flights between Israel and Bahrain will begin at the start of 2021, with passenger flights to Tel Aviv at first and later to Eilat and Haifa, as well as cargo flights.
In addition, an “e-visa” service will come into place on December 1 for Israelis wishing to visit Bahrain and vice versa.
Zayani pointed out that former Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem 43 years ago nearly to the day, “planting the seeds of peace that we are further nurturing today. It is fitting that I am making this visit so near to that anniversary.”
Bahrain is convinced of the importance of peace and believes in mutual respect and acceptance, Zayani said, following a meeting with Ashkenazi.
The Bahraini foreign minister said he was “encouraged... by the genuinely open and constructive atmosphere in which our discussion took place. There is a clear keenness on both sides to make this cooperation work and to demonstrate this can have clear, positive benefits for our countries and the region.”
Zayani commended “the seriousness of both sides to take this process forward and achieve tangible results... to have a better, more peaceful, more secure and more prosperous Middle East.”
At one point in his remarks, Zayani stumbled over Ashkenazi’s name, and then explained that it was because “he always asks me to call him Gabi.”
Ashkenazi disclosed that he and Zayani “have been speaking for a couple of months now and have become close friends.
“It’s an exciting moment to meet a friend for the first time, face-to-face here in Israel,” he added.
Ashkenazi touted the major change in the Middle East in recent months, since the Abraham Accords were first announced, and said Zayani’s visit symbolizes “the peace that all of Israel has dreamed of.
“We agreed to call ourselves the guardians of peace, of this new baby born as peace,” he said.
THE FOREIGN minister quoted Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which said the nascent state would “extend [its] hand to [its] neighbor states and their people in an offer of peace.”
“[First] prime minister David Ben-Gurion’s vision is coming true before our eyes,” Ashkenazi said. “Together, Israel and Bahrain will create a better future for our people and our children... The region has known too many conflicts, too many wars. It’s time for peace.”
Ashkenazi said he “welcome[s] the decision of the Palestinians yesterday to resume cooperation with Israel.
“Our door is open to renew negotiations,” Ashkenazi said. “I urge the Palestinians to return to peace talks with no preconditions.”
In the later trilateral meeting, Zayani also tied the peace between his country and Israel to a hope that Israel and the Palestinians will make peace.
“This is the dawn of peace for the entire Middle East, and to this end, I continue to emphasize in all my meetings that, in order to achieve such a peace, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict needs to be resolved,” he said. “Therefore, I call for both parties to get around the negotiating table to achieve a viable two-state solution as is also sought by the international community.”
Rivlin also included the Palestinians in his vision for “a better future for all people” in his meeting with Zayani. He asserted that “Jews and Muslims, the children of Abraham, Israelis and Palestinians are not doomed to live together; we are destined to live together. It is time to build trust and to make peace.”
The president shared a quote that King Solomon stated “in this very city 3,000 years ago,” from Ecclesiastes: “There is a time to love, and a time to hate, a time for war, and a time for peace.” He continued on to say that he is “so very proud” and “excited” that the two nations have “shown the world that there is time for peace.”
Pompeo emphasized the message the Abraham Accords send to Iran. The agreements “tell malign actors like the Islamic Republic of Iran that... they are ever-more isolated and shall forever be until they change their direction,” Pompeo warned.
“These agreements are... important to the whole world,” the secretary of state said. “Countries you wouldn’t expect are grateful for the work Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates and Israel will do together.”
The secretary of state said peace between the countries will advance religious freedom, allowing more Muslims easier access to pray at the Temple Mount, using the Jewish name and not the Arab name for the holy site. He also called Jerusalem “the capital of the Jewish homeland.”
Pompeo will be in Israel until Friday. He is expected to make a personal visit to Qasr el-Yahud, the site of Jesus’s baptism and where the Jewish people crossed the Jordan River into the Land of Israel 40 years after the Exodus from Egypt. He is also expected to visit the Psagot Winery in the West Bank as well as the Golan Heights.
Netanyahu expressed enthusiasm for “three peace agreements in six weeks,” saying: “I don’t think it gets any better than that!”
The prime minister referred to the 2019 conference in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, which was meant to find economic solutions for the Palestinians that would encourage peace. He said that though the “meeting was pooh-poohed, it was a harbinger of great things to come.”
Netanyahu compared Bahrain to Israel, saying it “respects the past and looks forward to the future,” and has a “robust and modern economy.”
“What we are doing with this agreement is... unleashing an economic force, a force for peace and the benefit of both our peoples,” he said. “King Hamad [bin Isa Al Khalifa] and I are building a bridge of peace many others will cross in the future.”
Rivlin, Netanyahu and Pompeo offered their sympathies for the death of Bahrain’s prime minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa in their remarks.
Abby Adler contributed to this report.