Bahrain’s foreign minister has called for open communication with Israel in an unprecedented interview with one of Israel’s major TV news stations.
Sheikh Khalid Ben Ahmed al-Khalifah made the breakthrough comments to Channel 13 this week after Donald Trump’s Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner presented his much derided peace plans in the Gulf.
Asked by Israeli journalist Barak Ravid if he had a message to the Israeli people, Sheikh Khalid said: “You have a peace agreement with Egypt, you have a peace agreement with Jordan, and you did have some kind of understandings with the Palestinians through their authority for the last period, but this is not the limit of the scope of where you belong.”
He continued: “Israel is a country of the Middle East. Israel is part of this heritage of this whole region, historically. So, the Jewish people have a place amongst us.”
Asked about the peace plan, he said he hadn’t seen it, but that it required “more than the United States… It requires the parties of the region to work together”.
In other interviews Sheikh Khalid was asked about Israel’s bombing of Iranian personnel in Syria, to which he said: “Every country has a right to defend itself.”
Iran is the shared enemy of both Israel and the Gulf states, including Bahrain, which hosted the conference in its capital Manama. Kushner’s plan is for a $50 billion economic stimulus in the Palestinian territories but does not say who will pay for it, or how. The Palestinians boycotted the event, citing Trump’s bias towards Israel.
“It was a regrettable matter because the presence of Palestinian brothers was important,” Sheikh Khalid said. “It is an important chance to improve the atmosphere to reach peace and launch ambitious, gigantic projects linking the Palestinian areas and developing the infrastructure facilities, education and health.”
Palestinian leaders say Donald Trump’s administration is biased towards Israel. In recent months it has pulled hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian aid, moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, recognised the Golan Heights as Israeli, closed the Palestinian consulate in Washington, closed US offices in the West Bank and Gaza, and refused to criticise Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he threatened to annex parts of the West Bank.
Despite that, US Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt said the Palestinian stance was “difficult to understand”.
Bahrain is not the first Arab country on the Arabian peninsula to urge Israel’s acceptance. In October, Oman’s Foreign Minister Yousouf bin Alawi said: “Israel is a state present in the region, and we all understand this. Maybe it is time for Israel to be treated the same [as other states] and to also bear the same obligations.”
Watch the interview here: