Israel, Bahrain sign peace statement in Manama

The flight, number 973 like Bahrain’s country code for phone calls, is the first El Al flight to Manama.

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat speaks before joining an Israeli-US delegation to Bahrain, October 18, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat speaks before joining an Israeli-US delegation to Bahrain, October 18, 2020
Israel and Bahrain signed a “joint communique on establishing peaceful and diplomatic relations” during the visit of a high-level Israeli government delegation to Manama on Sunday.
The two states signed memorandums of understanding, with the peace and normalization as the central document.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Bahraini Foreign Minister Adullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani before the signing, saying: “We are making giant steps to promote peace… This is the start of a breakthrough towards peace.”
The first El Al flight to Manama took off from Ben-Gurion Airport, with American and Israeli officials aboard on Sunday morning. It was flight LY973, the number corresponds to Bahrain’s international dialing code. Captain Bobby Lavi addressed his passengers and said: “We wish you a pleasant flight and are looking forward for a new era of peace, salaam and shalom for the whole region. Thank you.”
Al-Zayani, who signed the countries’ first peace declaration in Washington last month, and Undersecretary of International Affairs Abdullah bin Ahmed bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa greeted the visitors when they landed in Manama.
Bahrain’s foreign minister told the delegations that they were building on the Abraham Accords, the agreements his country and the United Arab Emirates signed with Israel last month, “with the optimism that such a peace will bring a new stability and prosperity to the region, allowing our young people across the Middle East to achieve the potential, the aspirations, which they have been denied for too long. Today we put in place the foundations through which we can reach this goal.”
Al-Zayani expressed his appreciation for Bahraini King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa’s “unflinching commitment to peace, dialogue and cooperation,” which he said brought the region to a point where people “can now genuinely see a realistic alternative to the decades of division and conflict.”
National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat led the Israeli delegation, and was joined by Prime Minister’s Office Acting Director-General Ronen Peretz and Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz, as well as top officials from the Tourism and Communications Ministries.
Ben-Shabbat said on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport that the delegation was heading to Manama to “translate the declarations at the White House into something practical.”
Upon landing in Manama, Ben-Shabbat spoke in Hebrew and Arabic, saying “we came to add blessings and peace.”
He said Israel and Bahrain were similar in many ways, they are small geographically and have small populations, but “a pioneering spirit.”
Referring to the Torah portion read the day before, in which God separates darkness from light, Ben-Shabbat added: “Together we will spread light and increase the good.”
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman were also on the flight.
Before departure, Friedman said: “we are bringing the Bible to life with peace between the sons of Abraham.”
Mnuchin called the Abraham Accords “the most extraordinary outcome in the last 25 years.”
“I think 10 years from now, when we look back at this, this will be as significant if not more significant than both the Egyptian treaty and the Jordanian treaty [with Israel], in how it has changed the whole region – economically, in particular, but also from a security standpoint and a cultural standpoint.”
The Israelis spent over seven hours in Manama for meetings with their Bahraini counterparts, at the end of which they signed eight documents, including a peace declaration, which, like the memorandum signed in Washington on September 15, is not a treaty. It involves the establishment of full diplomatic relations, including the opening of embassies.
The other documents related to economic cooperation, civil aviation, cooperation between finance ministries, communications and mail, agriculture, cooperation between foreign ministries and visa-exempt status for diplomats.
Unlike the trip to the UAE, when a kosher caterer prepared meals, the El Al flight attendants distributed sandwiches for those keeping kosher to take with them. One official said the trip was only finalized on Friday because of the coronavirus pandemic, security and the different delegates’ itineraries.
“Given a choice between a sit-down banquet and using the time for working meetings, I reckon the latter is a better use of time,” the official said.
After the signing ceremony, the Israeli delegation plans to return to Israel, while the US delegation will fly to Abu Dhabi for “the first-ever Abraham Accords Business Summit” and it will then fly back to Tel Aviv.
On Tuesday, the first official delegation from the UAE to Israel is expected to arrive.
In light of coronavirus precautions, the UAE officials are expected to remain in the airport for several hours before flying back to Abu Dhabi.
The first-ever commercial flight of the UAE airline Etihad from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv is expected to depart on Monday.
Houda Nounoo, the former Bahraini ambassador to the US, who is Jewish, gave Israeli journalists a tour of the community’s synagogue, which has long been dormant but is due to reopen on February 25, Purim, after renovations will be completed.
“Coexistence in Bahrain was here way before anyone began talking about coexistence and tolerance,” she said. “Bahrain is the only country in the Gulf that has indigenous Jews. So that’s important to remember.”
Ibraheem Nounoo, head of the Jewish community of Bahrain said he hoped there would be a regular minyan, prayer quorum.
“If we’ve got diplomatic relations, and we’ve got Jewish people in the embassy, and we’ve got also Jews who are from the American base – I think we are going to have enough numbers to have minyans (prayer quora) regularly. But more importantly, for the festivals, I think, it will be nice to bring in the rabbis and celebrate the festivals,” he said.
Paul Packer, chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, led an impromptu prayer for the new Hebrew month with Ibraheem Nounoo and Israeli security guards.