Bahrain’s foreign minister called for fresh Israeli-Palestinian peace talks during a landmark meeting Wednesday in Israel with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Pompeo — President Donald Trump’s top diplomat, on a farewell visit to close ally Israel — did not address Israel’s dispute with the Palestinians, who have protested his planned trip Thursday to a Jewish-owned business in the occupied West Bank.
Bahrain’s Abdellatif al-Zayani said the historic U.S.-brokered deals the Gulf kingdom and the United Arab Emirates had struck to normalize ties with Israel would help foster a dawn of “peace for the entire Middle East”.
“To achieve and consolidate such a peace, the Palestinian and Israeli conflict needs to be resolved,” the minister said as Pompeo and Netanyahu stood by at a joint press conference.
“I therefore call for both parties to get around the negotiating table to achieve a viable two-state solution,” said Bahrain’s first minister on an official visit to Jerusalem, where both sides agreed to set up embassies in each others’ countries.
Pompeo has no scheduled meetings with Palestinian leaders, who have strongly rejected Trump’s stance on the conflict, including Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
Pompeo instead stressed the need to work together to isolate common foe Iran, which the U.S. Treasury targeted with new sanctions the same day.
Iran is “ever more isolated and this shall forever be until they change their direction,” Pompeo said.
– Israeli air strikes –
The U.S. and Israel — along with Gulf states the UAE, Bahrain and notably Saudi Arabia — share a strong animosity toward Shiite Muslim regional power Iran.
They accuse the Islamic republic of seeking to build a nuclear bomb, fueling unrest from Syria and Iraq to Lebanon and Yemen, and of seeking the destruction of Israel.
Trump’s outgoing administration has made isolating Iran a centerpiece of its regional policy.
Pompeo warned the Islamic republic that the deals the UAE and Bahrain have reached with Israel showed “its influence in the region is waning.”
The New York Times reported Monday that Trump had last week asked top aides about the possibility of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Senior officials reportedly “dissuaded the president from moving ahead with a military strike,” warning him such an attack could escalate into a broader conflict in the twilight of his presidency.
Israel said Wednesday it had hit Iranian targets in Syria with overnight air strikes, in its latest of many attacks in the war-torn country.
An Israeli army statement said its fighter jets had “struck military targets” belonging to the Syrian armed forces and Iranian Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 people were killed, including foreign fighters and Syrian soldiers.
Israel said it launched the attacks in response to the discovery of improvised explosive devices near a military base on its side of the armistice line on the occupied Golan Heights.
Netanyahu said Israel would “not tolerate any attempt to attack us from Syrian territory,” reiterating the Israeli policy to “not allow Iranian military entrenchment against us in Syria”.
– Grapes of Wrath –
Pompeo — who has so far backed Trump in refusing to concede defeat to President-elect Joe Biden — is on a Europe and Middle East tour that has so far taken him to France, Turkey and Georgia.
On Thursday, he is expected to become the first US top diplomat to visit a Jewish industrial zone in the occupied West Bank, where a vineyard has named one of its wines after him.
Palestinians have angrily denounced the expected visit to the Psagot winery near Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority.
Dozens of Palestinians demonstrated in Al-Bireh, a community located between Jerusalem and Ramallah, and some threw stones at soldiers guarding the entrance to the settler industrial zone.
Israeli planning and building of settlements in the Palestinian territories has boomed under successive Netanyahu governments and especially since Trump took office in 2017.
Pompeo said a year ago that the United States no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be contrary to international law.
Those comments were hailed by the Psagot vineyard, which has been fighting to keep the label “Israel” on its bottles, rather than the phrase “Israeli settlements” demanded by several European court rulings.
The Palestinian prime minister, Mohammed Shtayyeh, said Pompeo “is going to visit the… Jewish settlement simply because he is visiting a winery that has produced a bottle of wine named after him.
“If international relations are designed on a bottle of wine, it’s to hell with international relations.”