Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Some in Bahrain Oppose Normalization Of Relations With Israel


Two Arab countries are signing peace deals with Israel tomorrow at the White House. The United Arab Emirates broke the ice last month. Now the tiny Gulf kingdom of Bahrain is following the UAE's lead. Bahrain has been warming to Israel for years, but not everyone is on board. Here's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Please, everyone from the delegation come and put their handful of soil under the tree, please.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Three years ago, an unprecedented delegation from Bahrain visited Jerusalem. It was an interfaith group that planted trees in an Israeli peace forest.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It will become the kingdom of Bahrain's tree of life here in Jerusalem.


ESTRIN: Then the Bahrainis were quickly escorted to their tour bus.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: This delegate declined my interview request. He said, our situation in Bahrain is difficult when it comes to Israel. But the visit was a public hint from Bahrain that it wished to normalize ties with Israel. A few months earlier, Bahrain's Industry and Trade Minister Zayed Al Zayani spoke to NPR.


ZAYED AL ZAYANI: We all would like to have normal relations with Israel at some point of time.

ESTRIN: Leaders in both Bahrain and Israel see a common enemy in Iran, but many average Bahrainis oppose relations with Israel so long as it's in conflict with the Palestinians. One Bahraini woman contacted by NPR recalled one of those Bahraini clerics who returned from that visit to Jerusalem.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: There was a backlash when he came back, this person in particular. And he had to make excuses about his visit, actually.

ESTRIN: She asked for anonymity because she fears government retaliation for speaking out, but she says she's not alone.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Actually, I've been talking to many people - to colleagues with me in the office, friends and people in my community. And what strikes me, actually, about people from different, let's say, social background with different political opinions - they all come together in supporting the Palestinian case. And they are against the normalization that the - like, the current deal normalization with Israel.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Speaking (Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: Video posted online shows Bahrainis marching against the normalization deal. Tomorrow at the White House, while the United Arab Emirates is expected to sign a peace treaty with Israel, Bahrain will only sign a peace declaration. Bader Al-Saif of the Carnegie Middle East Center.

BADER AL-SAIF: This would be a government-to-government transactional relationship - that this would not be a warm type of peace in which people are involved in it and there are business exchanges and what have you.

ESTRIN: Bahrain is closely tied to the bigger regional power, Saudi Arabia. Bahrain's deal with Israel may be a trial balloon for Saudi Arabia, which is still holding off on normalizing ties with Israel.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMIE XX'S "OBVS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.