Bahrain activists slam call for grouping of Arabs, Israel

Lawmakers, opposition furious over proposal for regional bloc.
Bahrain activists slam call for grouping of Arabs, Israel
PLAN SLAMMED: Lawmakers and opposition activists in Bahrain have slammed foreign minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa (pictured) for calling for a regional bloc. (AFP)
Fri 03 Oct 2008 10:25 AM

Lawmakers and opposition activists in Bahrain on Thursday slammed the foreign minister of the Gulf state, a staunch US ally, after he called for a regional grouping of Arabs and historic foe Israel.

"The minister should revoke his remarks... If he doesn't, he will have to answer members of parliament," Jalal Fayruz, an MP for the opposition Islamic National Accord Association (INAA), the main Shiite political formation, told AFP.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa proposed the creation of the regional bloc, which would also include Iran and Turkey, in an interview published on Wednesday.

"Israel, Iran, Turkey and Arab states should sit together in one organisation," he was quoted as saying by the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.

"Aren't we all members of a global organisation called the United Nations? Why not (come together) on a regional basis? This is the only way to solve our problems. There's no other way to solve them, now or in 200 years."

Bahrain hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and has a free trade agreement with Washington.

Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa met Israeli officials during World Economic Forum summits in 2000 and 2003, while Sheikh Khaled met Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni at the United Nations last year.

But political groupings in Bahrain, which is ruled by a Sunni dynasty and has a Shiite majority, oppose any normalisation of ties with Israel.

Sheikh Khaled's proposal serves "US plans to integrate Israel in the region," said Muslim Brotherhood MP Nasser Al-Fadhala.

Ibrahim Al-Sharif, secretary general of the National Democratic Action Association (NDAA), an opposition alliance of leftists and pan-Arab nationalists, said "parliament must hold the minister accountable."

"The minister must make clear if his remarks represent official policy or are a personal view," he told AFP.

Hasan Madan of the leftist Democratic Progressive Forum Association said: "With Israel occupying Arab lands and no prospect (of a breakthrough) in its negotiations with the Palestinians, bringing Israel into an organisation with the Arabs will encourage further aggression and occupation."

Political associations act as de facto parties in Bahrain, where political parties remain banned.

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