Bahrain’s imports from Israel will not be subject to distinctions between products made within Israel and those from illegal settlements in occupied territory, the Bahraini trade minister has said, drawing a rebuke from Palestinians.
Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) formalised ties with Israel on September 15, in a United States-sponsored deal billed by the Gulf countries as being made possible by Israel’s shelving of a plan to annex illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Most world powers deem them illegal.
But Bahrain’s Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani voiced openness to imports from settlements.
“We will treat Israeli products as Israeli products. So we have no issue with labelling or origin,” he told Reuters during a visit to Israel.
Under European Union guidelines, settlement products should be clearly labelled as such when exported to EU member countries.
The administration of US President Donald Trump last month removed US customs distinctions between goods made within Israel and in illegal settlements.
Al Zayani’s remarks were condemned by Wasel Abu Youssef of the Palestine Liberation Organization as “contradicting international and UN resolutions”.
He urged Arab countries not to import products from within Israel, either, in order to prevent it from “stretching into Arab markets to strengthen its economy”.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, passed in 2016, called upon countries to “distinguish in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”.
The stateless Palestinians hope to create their own independent country in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem as part of a two-state solution, but the issue of Jewish illegal settlements on land captured by Israel in the 1967 war has long been a stumbling block in the now-stalemated peace process.
They now fear that the warming ties between Gulf states and Israel, along with Trump’s strong support for Israel, have badly damaged their aspirations.
It was not clear what other Gulf states’ positions on imports from the illegal settlements were.
But an Israeli winery that uses grapes grown on the occupied Golan Heights said in September that its labels would be sold in the UAE.
Israel expects trade with Bahrain to be worth around $220m in 2021, not including possible defence and tourism deals.
Al Zayani said Bahraini carrier Gulf Air was tentatively scheduled to begin flights to Tel Aviv on January 7, with shipping to follow.
“We are fascinated by how integrated [the] IT and innovation sector in Israel has been embedded in every facet of life,” he said.
He played down speculation in Israel that its citizens visiting Bahrain could be at risk of reprisals for the assassination last Friday of a top Iranian nuclear scientist, which Tehran blamed on Israeli agents.
“We don’t see any threats,” he said, “and therefore we don’t see any requirement for additional security or special treatment for Israelis.”