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Bahrain Sends a Delegation to Israel

Dec. 15 2017

Last weekend, only a few days after the White House’s Jerusalem announcement, 23 members of a group called “This Is Bahrain” visited Israel. Simon Henderson explains what this might mean:

The group . . . was making its first trip to the country to show off Bahrain’s claim of tolerance of all faiths; it is dedicated to supporting King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa’s commitment to promoting religious freedom and coexistence across the globe, though it does not appear to have an official status. Bahrain does not have official ties with Israel, though King Hamad appears to believe that religious contact can be distinguished from open diplomatic contacts, a questionable though perhaps admirable distinction in terms of the Middle East. . . . [He] approved the trip himself, according to insiders.

[The visit] comes at a moment when Gulf states are bolstering their security and intelligence relationships with Israel because of a shared interest in confronting what they view as an Iranian threat. It is worth watching Riyadh and Abu Dhabi for their reactions to the delegation’s visit to see if Bahrain is leading the way or just trying to punch above its weight.

The group . . . met with Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, the only Arab member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet. Since news of the delegation’s visit broke, reports from Israel have claimed that Kara intends to visit Bahrain in the coming months. “There will be more surprises in the coming year. We see great interest among the Gulf states in developing connections with Israel,” he said in an interview.

Although close to Netanyahu, Kara is not necessarily the most reliable indicator of the state of Gulf-Israeli relations, which are the domain of Israel’s military, intelligence, and diplomatic establishment. There may also be a tension between [the diplomats’] desire to maintain and strengthen the existing ties quietly and the politicians’ desire for a public breakthrough. It may be that the latter group is going to get its wish: Bahrain’s King Hamad is usually not regarded as the political equal of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or his Emirati [equivalent], Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, but this Jerusalem visit suggests Israel’s relationship with Gulf countries can’t remain in the shadows forever.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Bahrain, Gulf Cooperation Council, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Saudi Arabia

Why Cutting U.S. Funding for Palestinian “Refugees” Is the Right Move

Jan. 22 2018

Last week the Trump administration announced that it is withholding some of America’s annual contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the organization tasked with providing humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. To explain why this decision was correct, Elliott Abrams compares UNRWA with the agency run by the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), which provides humanitarian aid to refugees who are not Palestinian:

One of [UNHCR’s] core missions is “ending statelessness.” [By contrast, UNRWA’s] mission appears to be “never ending statelessness.” A phrase such as “ending statelessness” would be anathema and is found nowhere on its website. Since 1950, UNHCR has tried to place refugees in permanent new situations, while since 1950 UNRWA has with its staff of 30,000 “helped” over 5 million Palestinian “refugees” to remain “refugees.” . . . UNRWA has three times as large a staff as UNHCR—but helps far fewer people than the 17 million refugees UNHCR tries to assist. . . .

The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA is not primarily financial. The United States is an enormously generous donor to UNHCR, providing just under 40 percent of its budget. I hope we maintain that level of funding. . . . The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA instead rests on two pillars. The first is that UNRWA’s activities repeatedly give rise to concern that it has too many connections to Hamas and to rejectionist ideology. . . .

But even if those flaws were corrected, this would not solve the second and more fundamental problem with UNRWA—which is that it will perpetuate the Palestinian “refugee” problem forever rather than helping to solve it. . . . [T]hat the sole group of refugees whom the UN keeps enlarging is Palestinian, and that the only way to remedy this under UN definitions would be to eliminate the state of Israel or have 5 million Palestinian “refugees” move there should simply be unacceptable. . . .

Perpetuating and enlarging the Palestinian “refugee” crisis has harmed Israel and it has certainly harmed Palestinians. Keeping their grievances alive may have served anti-Israel political ends, but it has brought peace no closer and it has helped prevent generations of Palestinians from leading normal lives. That archipelago of displaced-persons and refugee camps that once dotted Europe [in the aftermath of World War II] is long gone now, and the descendants of those who tragically lived in those camps now lead productive and fruitful lives in many countries. One can only wish such a fate for Palestinian refugee camps and for Palestinians. More money for UNRWA won’t solve anything.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Israel & Zionism, Palestinians, Refugees, U.S. Foreign policy, UNRWA