Bahrain commerce minister: Business sector will forge peace

West Bank and Golan Heights goods and services will be labeled Israeli in Bahrain, minister says.

Bahraini Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Bahraini Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani
Economic matters come before politics, Bahraini Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani said Thursday, wrapping up his visit to Jerusalem with the first-ever trade delegation from his country.
“We have started a new chapter with Israel,” he said of the normalization between his country and Israel. “A brave step has been taken by the leadership, signing the Abraham Accords [in September], and the foundation has been laid.”
Now it is the job of the business sector to build bridges between Israelis and Bahrainis, he added.
Economic ties between Israel and Bahrain will encourage others to join the accords, Al Zayani posited.
“In today’s world, economics leads politics,” he said. “If we manage to make a successful economic model, others will join. That is what we are anxious and eager to get going – to establish economic ties.”
“The whole world is watching... and we have a responsibility as pioneers in this process to make sure it’s everlasting, so others can buy into it,” he added.
Al Zayani expressed pride in Bahrain’s economy, 80% of which is driven by a diverse private sector. Israeli companies would be treated equally to those from any other country, he said.
“We look on the private sector to forge this peace, whether through the exchange of goods and services or ultimately joint-venture partnerships in Israel and Bahrain,” Al Zayani said. “The government officials’ role is to facilitate and eventually regulate.”
Asked whether Israeli products from the West Bank, east Jerusalem or the Golan Heights would be labeled differently, he said: “We will recognize them as Israeli products.”
Much of the business between Israel and Bahrain will not necessarily be in tangible products; rather, it will be in services from Israel’s tech sector, he added.
Al Zayani waxed poetic about his visit to Jerusalem. He walked through the Old City the night before. Even though he was unable to visit the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque because it was closed for the evening, he got a glimpse of the Western Wall and the mosque from a balcony.
“I always spoke to people who had been to Jerusalem, and they told me it was the most spiritual city in the world – and I felt it,” he said. “You could feel the air is different. The closest I felt to that was Mecca and Medina, as a Muslim.”
AL ZAYANI said he was “fascinated” by Israel’s tech sector. He visited the headquarters of autonomous-car development company Mobileye during his trip and took a 20-minute driverless ride in the streets of Jerusalem.
In a conversation with Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua, he said his family has been in the car dealership business since the 1940s and now finds it curious that this is happening in Israel and not in the leading car manufacturing countries, such as Korea, Japan or Germany.
“The answer was that what you’re seeing is not an automotive industry; it’s an IT solution fixed on a car,” he said. “That is what we want to capture from Israel: access to knowledge.”
Al Zayani said he hoped Bahrain would learn from Israel how to “draw benefits from the sun and water, which we have in abundance, but we haven’t capitalized on.” From his hotel window, it seemed like all of the roofs in Jerusalem had solar panels, he said.
Regarding tourism, Al Zayani said Bahrain has made efforts in the past decade to greatly increase the number of foreign visitors, and Israel fits into that strategy.
“There is Jewish culture and sites in Bahrain, which could be an attraction point for the community in Israel and beyond,” he said.
Bahrain could become a popular stopover for religious pilgrims from Southeast Asia traveling to Israel and Israelis traveling to the Far East, he added.
Gulf Air, Bahrain’s flagship carrier, is expected to launch a route to New York next year, Al Zayani said, and his ministry is “already talking to the Jewish community in the US, specifically in New York, to incorporate them into part of our tourism promotion.”
Rabbi Marc Schneier, head of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which promotes interfaith dialogue, is expected to announce a North American Jewish tourism initiative to the Gulf that would include Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which now have ties with Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman, which do not.
Asked about security concerns from Israelis traveling in Bahrain, Al Zayani said there is no need to be worried.
“Bahrainis are very welcoming... We have a quite good security apparatus in Bahrain,” he said.
Earlier in Al Zayani’s three-day visit, he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Economy Minister Amir Peretz, Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen and others.