The revolt rocking the Gulf state of Bahrain continues, as protesters occupy the Pearl roundabout area, demanding that King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa step down. One of the root causes driving the crisis in Bahrain is the existence of a “king who shows diminishing care for relations with his Shi’i subjects,” as Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote. And while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far from a root cause of the unrest in Bahrain and other Arab countries, popular sentiment on Israel is one more example of the disconnect between Bahraini and other U.S.-backed Arab elites and their people, and this disconnect is at the core of the uprisings’ demands for democracy and freedom.
State Department cables on Bahrain released by WikiLeaks reveal the depth of that disconnect in Bahrain.
Israeli-Bahraini relations can’t be described as close, but recent outreach efforts to Israel by the ruling family have turned heads in that country. In a July 2009 Op-Ed published in the Washington Post, the crown prince of Bahrain called for dialogue between Israelis and Arabs. After the piece was published, according to a August 2009 cable from the embassy in Bahrain’s capital city, the prince urged U.S. officials “to think about ‘a peace dividend’ for those countries, like Bahrain, that were willing to take risks for peace. He specifically mentioned that Bahrain would welcome increased trade and investment from the United States.”
But the people of Bahrain reacted strongly against the move. A July 2009 cable states that because of Israeli “settlements, arrests, attacks against civilian populations,” public opinion in Bahrain thought that it was “unacceptable” to “reach out to Israel.” This sentiment was expressed in “both Sunni and Shia blogs,” with one blogger publishing “photos from Gaza of dead and maimed Palestinian children” in response. (The cable also reports that one blog posting stated, “as long as normalization is with the people of Israel and not the political leadership (of Israel), it is acceptable.”)
Bahrain’s foreign minister came in for similar criticism in his country in the wake of a 2007 meeting with Tzipi Livni, then Israel’s foreign minister, as a WikiLeaks cable shows. The cable also reports that Bahrain’s foreign minister told an American Jewish Committee delegation of the need to “shore up President Abbas against the challenge presented by Hamas,” and called for Palestinian refugees to give up their right of return.