Bahrain Group Visits Israel Amid Arab Furor Over Jerusalem

(Bloomberg) -- Bahrain has sent a group of political and religious figures to Israel to demonstrate the Gulf kingdom’s commitment to religious pluralism and its intention to deepen ties with the Jewish state, an Israeli cabinet member said.

The 24-member delegation arrived last week after U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move condemned across the Arab world. Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara, who met the group in Jerusalem and called the timing of their visit coincidental, said on Sunday he plans to visit Bahrain in the coming months.

“There will be more surprises in the coming year,” Kara, the only Arab member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, said in a telephone interview. “We see great interest among the Gulf states in developing connections with Israel.”

‘This is Bahrain,’ the association that organized the trip, said in a statement that the visit was conducted as a “personal initiative” by members of the delegation, according to the official Bahrain News Agency. “The association stresses that the delegation, which included some foreign residents of Bahrain from various faiths, does not represent any official body in the Kingdom of Bahrain,” it said.

Some Gulf countries, which do not have diplomatic relations with Israel, have been cultivating unofficial ties, partly because of their shared concern about threats from Iran. Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab countries that have signed peace treaties with Israel.

Paris Meeting

Netanyahu met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris and fended off criticism of Trump’s action on Jerusalem at a press conference, saying the U.S. is “leading a serious effort for peace” with the Palestinians. The Israeli leader, who says covert ties with the Arab world are flourishing, was scheduled to fly to Brussels for a meeting Monday with European Union foreign ministers.

‘This is Bahrain’ aims to publicize the kingdom’s commitment to religious tolerance, according to its website. Members of the group include Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists and other religious minorities in Bahrain.

Kara said Israel’s contacts with Bahrain have been among the closest with the Gulf states, and that he arranged several years ago for a Bahraini princess to undergo surgery in Israel. He said he expects a regional conference to be held in 2018 to advance peaceful ties between Arab countries and Israel.

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