Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Hot off the heels of the UAE-Israeli peace agreement of mid-August, Bahrain has become the second Persian Gulf country to normalize relations with Israel in less than 30 days. Relations with other Arab countries have historically been strained, if not outright hostile, with outlying exceptions such as Egypt after 1979 (under Anwar Sadat, who signed a peace treaty with Israel after the Camp David Accords) and Jordan after 1994 (under King Hussein, shortly after the Oslo Accords).
The announcement came this Friday after a three-way phone call between President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu and King Hamad, who released a joint statement attesting to the historic event. The American announcement of the event came via Twitter, from the President's account.
It is no coincidence the news broke on the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law and Senior Advisor, noted that the historic agreement would "honour the memory" of Americans killed by acts' arising from hatred and conflict in the Middle East.'
The move from President Trump can be interpreted as an attempt to fulfill his 2016 campaign promise to end American involvement in foreign wars through greater isolationism as the 2020 election creeps closer. In a similar regard, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will engage in peace talks this coming weekend with the Ghani government in Afghanistan and the Taliban to bring an end to the war of nearly two decades (and by extension, American involvement therein), having begun in October 2001, just one month after 9/11.
Although the decision itself does not indicate a greater shift transpiring in the region, the pattern of recent events does, making it likely other countries will soon follow in the UAE and Bahrain’s footsteps. For example, in 2018, the now-deceased Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said met with Netanyahu, the first diplomatic meeting between the two countries' heads since 1996. Oman, a generally neutral state that has taken a supportive role in aiding negotiations between Israel and Palestine, nevertheless does not maintain diplomatic relations with the former. Due to Bahrain's small size, population, and heavy reliance on its much larger neighbour, the island state's decision may also precipitate a similar statement from Saudi Arabia itself in the near future. "It's an indication that the new leadership in Saudi Arabia supports normalization, because Bahrain doesn't make a foreign policy move without Saudi Arabia's express permission," stated Kirsten Fontenrose, a former member of the National Security Council with a specialization in Gulf affairs.
However, this agreement has not proven universally popular with everyone. American-Palestinian relations have been in free-fall since the beginning of the Trump presidency. This decision will take the form of yet another nail in the coffin for America's would-be position as a 'neutral bystander' in the Israel-Palestine conflict's peace process.
From the slashing of American aid to Palestinian refugees to the closure of the PLO office in Washington to the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to Jared Kushner’s bungled, impartial peace plan that has been called both a “smokescreen for annexation” and “nothing less than a declaration of war on the Palestinian people,” American alienation of Palestinians may push them further into the arms of less-than-ideal allies of convenience such as Iran, who, as expected, reacted negatively to the Bahraini announcement. Indeed, Palestine pulled their ambassador from the Bahraini capital of Manama shortly after the announcement.
The strength of the Palestinian reaction in response to these actions from the Trump government indicates that peace—even if the President claims that "the Middle East was in a state of absolute chaos" when he entered the office and that he has since taken strides to change things for the better—remains far away.