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Palestinians Condemn U.S.-Brokered Bahrain-Israel Normalization


To the Middle East now, where one more Arab country is establishing diplomatic ties with Israel. Yesterday, the small Gulf state of Bahrain announced it will follow in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates and normalize its ties with Israel. The signing ceremony is next week at the White House. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem on how this diplomatic shift is reverberating in the region.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated Bahrain's move in a video clip.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: We've been working on this for many years. But we wouldn't come to this historic moment without the forceful leadership of President Trump and his able team.

ESTRIN: After the Emirates agreed to normalize relations with Israel last month, U.S. officials lobbied other Arab countries to do the same, and Bahrain answered the call. It had been making public gestures toward Israel in recent years. Netanyahu sees it as further fulfillment of his longtime vision - that Israel does not need to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to gain acceptance in the region.

Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi.

HANAN ASHRAWI: Israel is occupying Palestinian land, so that's where you need to make peace - not with countries that have had no conflict. With Israel, it's a spectacle put together in order to create the impression that Trump can make peace where no peace was needed, actually.

ESTRIN: Ashrawi says Palestinians feel let down by Bahrain. The united Arab front that favored the Palestinians over Israel is cracked. The White House hopes that will pressure Palestinians to make a deal with Israel. Ashrawi says Palestinians still have their supporters. She cites social justice activists in the U.S. and in Bahrain, where there's a vocal political opposition. The top-trending hashtag on Twitter there is against the Israel deal.

Answering the U.S.'s call to normalize with Israel is in the security interests of Bahrain's monarchy, says Carnegie Middle East Center fellow Bader Al-Saif.

BADER AL-SAIF: I think countering Iran comes up as one of the main rationales that the Bahrainis have gone for this. Pleasing the U.S. is another valid reason. Don't forget Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. It's been the headquarters of the Fifth Fleet for years.

ESTRIN: Among the Israeli public, focus is less on ties with Bahrain and more on rising coronavirus infections in Israel and a likely nationwide lockdown ahead of the Rosh Hashanah holiday next weekend.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.