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Bahrain foreign minister: Palestinians made a mistake by boycotting peace conference

MANAMA, Bahrain — Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told me in an exclusive interview for Channel 13 news and Axios that the Palestinians made a mistake not showing up to the U.S.-led conference in Manama, where the Trump administration is launching the economic portion of its peace plan.

Why it matters: This is one of the first times that an official from a Gulf state that doesn't have diplomatic relations with Israel has given an interview to an Israeli media outlet. The interview in itself is a sign of warming relations between Israel and the Gulf states. Sheikh Khalid said he wanted to speak directly to the Israeli public through the Israeli media as a means of easing tensions in the region and to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Highlights

On why he accepted an interview with an Israeli journalist: "It should have happened a long time ago. Talking with people you differ with is always a step that would lead to easing up any tension. We have always wanted to solve the Arab-Israeli dispute or the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. But we have always missed the communication. We've always talked to the whole people around the world except talking directly to the Israeli public and through their own ... media. ... And we didn't want to miss this opportunity here since we have this workshop."

  • On normalization with Israel, he added: "Yes, you do have a peace agreement with Egypt. You do have a peace agreement with Jordan, and ... some kind of understandings with the Palestinians. ... But this is not the limit of the scope of where you belong. Israel is a country in the Middle East. Israel is part of this heritage of this whole region historically. So the Jewish people have a place amongst us. So communication needs to be a prerequisite for solving all the dispute. We should talk."

On the Bahrain conference: Sheikh Khalid said the Bahraini government tried to convince the Palestinians not to boycott the conference. "It is always a mistake to miss an opportunity to achieve peace. … This was an opportunity that we wanted to see them here, but they chose not to come."

On the White House peace plan: Sheikh Khalid said he was not privy to the details of the political part of the plan, but said: "We do trust the U.S. that they will be able to reach an agreement." He added in a message to the Palestinians: "It will not be a good idea to shun the role of the U.S. in the peace process." The foreign minister also said he thinks the Israeli government made a mistake by not responding positively to the Arab Peace Initiative when it was first announced in 2002.

On Iran: "Iran is a major threat to the security and stability of the region. I don’t want to use the word Iran. It’s the Islamic Republic. It's this regime that changed all the dynamics." Sheikh Khalid said that Iran is exacerbating the Arab-Israeli conflict by transferring money and weapons to its proxies in the region, and he stressed that Israel had every right to act militarily against Iranian forces in Syria out of self-defense.

On the threat of a U.S.-Iran war: The Bahraini foreign minister said the Iranian regime was pushing for war by attacking ships and oil tankers, drone attacks from Yemen, and other provocations. He added: "This regime only survives with aggression. Only survives with exporting the Revolution. Only survives by taking control. So I think the restraint of the U.S. is very wise."

Read the full transcript here