11 September 2020   1 comment

Bahrain has announced that it will normalize relations with Israel, joining the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in recognizing Israel. The Arab states that recognize Israel now includes Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, and Bahrain. Normalizing relations with other states is always a good move since it opens up lines of communication that may prove useful in tense or awkward situations. But this move, while welcome, does not really change the dynamics within the Middle East. Indeed, it may prove to be somewhat troubling. The Economist notes:

“Even if it was expected, Bahrain’s announcement may prove more intriguing. The UAE did not have to worry about whether its decision would be popular: there is little space for dissent in the Emirates. Bahrain, on the other hand, has a history of protest. The Shia majority has long complained of discrimination at the hands of the Sunni royal family. Unrest peaked in 2011 during weeks of protests inspired by the Arab spring, which were crushed with the help of troops from other Gulf countries. Critics of normalisation with Israel have more room to express dissent in Bahrain—though they still face a ruthless state if they do.

“Another question is whether Bahrain serves as a trial balloon for its larger neighbour, Saudi Arabia. Bahrain relies heavily on Saudi Arabia for political and economic support. Saudi tourists are a mainstay of the Bahraini economy; most of Bahrain’s oil revenue comes from a joint offshore field operated by Saudi Aramco. Bahrain would not have made such a big move without Saudi Arabia’s blessing. The Saudis are unlikely to follow suit, at least so long as King Salman is alive. But he is 84 and in ill health. Muhammad bin Salman, the crown prince, is far less attached to the old Arab orthodoxy about Israel.”

We should watch three things. First, we should monitor the domestic reaction within Bahrain to the move. The government of Bahrain is Sunni but the population is majority Shia. Many of the Shia will take their cues from Iran which is hostile to Israel. There may be protests in Bahrain against the decision. Second, we should watch the reaction of Saudi Arabia which has yet to tip its hand. It is a powerful force on Bahrain, so we can safely assume that Saudi Arabia favored the move. But there may be domestic groups which are opposed to the move. The current King most likely does not favor recognizing Israel, but he is 84 and not in good health. His son, Crown Prince Salman, may be more flexible and is reportedly close to President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Third, the reaction from Iran will be negative, but is probably not in strong enough shape to react forcefully to the move. But its allies, Hamas and Hezbollah, may take actions.

One thing is certain: most of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are opposed to the Bahraini decision. Al Jazeera reports:

“The agreement was ‘a stab in the back of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people’, Ahmad Majdalani, social affairs minister in the Palestinian Authority (PA), told AFP news agency. 

“In the besieged Gaza Strip, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said Bahrain’s decision to normalise relations with Israel ‘represents a grave harm to the Palestinian cause, and it supports the occupation’.

“The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), based in Ramallah, occupied West Bank, called the normalisation ‘another treacherous stab to the Palestinian cause’.

“Palestinians fear the moves by the UAE and Bahrain will weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position that calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab countries.”

The Palestinians, however, have virtually no voice in any of these decisions as they have been shunted aside by the US and Israel. The decision by Bahrain limits further the attempts to create a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Posted September 11, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

One response to “11 September 2020

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  1. Pingback: 16 September 2020 | World Politics News

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