MANAMA – The Abraham Accords will ultimately only succeed if a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is achieved, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani told reporters late Sunday at a special briefing in Manama during President Isaac Herzog’s state visit.
“The bedrock of the peace is resolving the Palestinian issue,” which includes negotiations for a two-state solution, Zayani said.
Both he and King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa raised the issue of the Palestinians in the midst of a visit that focused on the positive ties between Israel and Bahrain. The visit comes two years into the Abraham Accords, in which Israel normalized ties with the Gulf kingdom and three other Arab countries.
Red carpet reception
Herzog is the first Israeli president to visit Bahrain. He received a red-carpet reception on Sunday morning after he landed, where he met with Zayani in a side room at the airport.
Bahrain rolled out the red carpet again when Herzog came to Al-Qudaibiya Palace in the capital to speak with Hamad and to have lunch. The event also included a reception with Bahraini ministers and members of the diplomatic corps, including Israel’s ambassador to the country.
The event began with both leaders standing at attention in the palace square, flanked by Israeli and Bahraini flags as the honor guard played Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” and “Bahrainona,” Bahrain’s anthem.
Prior to departing on Sunday morning, Herzog told reporters who joined on the small Arkia flight that his visit was “another historic step in the relationship between Israel” and Arab signatories to the Abraham Accords. It is, he said, “another step toward more and more nations joining the circle of peace with the State of Israel.”
מרגש לשמוע את המנון ״התקווה״ על אדמת בחריין לצד המלך. עלינו לחזק את הברית עם בנות הברית שלנו לשלום ולפעול לצרף עוד ועוד עמים ומדינות למעגל השלום באזורנו. אינשאללה! pic.twitter.com/hQa9MVwPE7— יצחק הרצוג Isaac Herzog (@Isaac_Herzog) December 4, 2022
The visit was designed to foster stronger ties between the countries. The pomp and ceremony of Herzog’s very public trip underscored the extent to which relations with Israel have become normalized in some Arab countries that are Westernizing and seeking to vastly expand their economic horizons.
It was the kind of visit that would not have been possible just four years ago. However, while officials at the top spoke of deepening ties, anti-Israeli sentiment was still evident on the streets, where some held rallies ahead of the visit to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Security was tight during his one-day trip.
The president arrived in Manama at a time when the Israeli public has largely lost faith in a two-state resolution, and prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to form an ultra-right-wing government that does not believe in a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has spoken of Israeli ties with Arab states as divorced from the Palestinian issue, and Herzog did not mention them during his public comments.
Hamad made sure to speak of the Palestinians in his public remarks at the start of his meeting with Herzog. There is firm support in Bahrain for “achieving a just, comprehensive and sustainable peace that guarantees the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and that will lead to stability, development and prosperity for both the Palestinian and Israeli people as well as for the people of the region,” Hamad said.
Nonetheless, the bulk of his comments were complimentary and focused on the country’s joint future with Israel.
“We are confident that this visit has an important role in consolidating relations between our two countries,” Hamad said.
Herzog told the monarch he was at the “forefront of making history in the region, where Jews and Muslims can dwell together, the sons of Abraham, and move forward in peace. It is a long process, but we can dream of it and we can see it.”
He also gave Hamad a silver mezuzah that he said symbolized “God’s coronation as king,” according to the President’s Office.
The leaders did not mention the joint threat they feel from neighboring Iran, with Zayani later telling reporters he still held out hope that the 2015 nuclear deal to restrain Tehran’s atomic ambitions would be revived.
He added that he hoped that Iran would become a responsible regional actor.
Herzog held a private meeting with the small Bahraini Jewish community. He also participated in a forum at the Bahrain Economic Development Board. He spoke there with Crown Prince and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
Bahraini entrepreneurs and a top-level Israeli business delegation that joined Herzog on the trip presented future projects and options that could expand both economies.
Herzog leaves Bahrain on Monday for the UAE to attend a space conference before returning to Israel.